Until recently, I considered myself to have been a late bloomer. My high school understanding of boys came largely from Heathcliff and Mr. Darcy. The little nubbins on my chest had plenty of breathing room in their A cup dwellings, and I got my period roughly around the same time as my sister—who is seven years younger than me.
And yet, I did not despair. I’d read enough “ugly duckling” books to know that even late bloomers eventually have their day in the sun. By my sophomore year of college, I’d emerged from behind my stacks of books as a not-so-graceful, a-bit-more-than-nubbins-having swan with more than my fair share of almost-Mr. Darcy-like suitors.
Oh, how I reveled in those days! After all those years of being overlooked, I found the attention from males intoxicating. Every day was a dream, a fantasy, a fairy tale. I was aglow in all my late-blooming glory.
I looked back at my high school classmates with sympathy. Yes, most of them had been able to find their own prom dates (instead of being set-up by their mom, like me), and yes, they had lots of wonderful memories of partying with their friends to look back on (instead of the blur of all-night read-a-thons that was my youth). But, so many of them had already settled into serious relationships and unrewarding jobs. They had bloomed and withered and I … I was still unfurling, one beautiful petal after the other.
During my “super senior” year, I met a handsome, witty guy who very charmingly knocked me off the high horse I had been perching on for years. I promptly fell in love, followed him across the country, and made some babies.
Everything changed once my children were born. My vanities and longings were tucked away behind stacks of onesies and teething rings. I gave up my career, my friends, and much of my youthful beauty to ensure my kids’ needs were met.
Ten years later, I caught my reflection in the mirror. Who was this woman? There were lines under my eyes and an extra layer of chubby around my waist, and my cute little nubbins had swelled into over-ripe mangoes from years of breastfeeding. The two degrees I’d earned gathered dust in the closet while I changed poopy diapers in sweatpants. It was time to face the facts. My day had come and gone. Better to just accept that I was past my prime and live for my children’s accomplishments. After all, a rose only blooms once before it dies, right?
A few years ago my mom came to visit. She looked at me in my tattered clothes and unwashed hair and clicked her tongue. I knew what that click meant. She’d always warned me how important it was not to lose yourself in child-rearing and there I was throwing years of advice in her face with my unkempt appearance.
On a better day, I would have argued with her about how superficial it was to care about appearances or how motherhood was the most meaningful job in existence. But, on that particular day, I was too exhausted and defeated to fight. Instead, I looked my beautiful mocha-skinned, killer-cheek-boned momma in the eye, the woman who, at 70, is still creating businesses and cultivating new friendships. I looked her right in the eye and gave her that tired-ass line about roses only blooming once.
As soon as the words left my mouth, my Momma threw back her head and filled the room with her booming laughter.
“Silly girl, roses are perennial. They keep on blooming over and over until you chop down the vine.”
It wasn’t until just recently that I’ve really begun to understand the wisdom of those words. Now that I’ve gotten my slender body back (while somehow keeping the mangoes) and launched my career in writing and developed new friendships and had adventures I never dreamed possible, I see how life is not a linear path towards a glorious climax, but rather a series of rises and falls.
Late bloomers, early bloomers, in the end, it doesn’t matter a bit. We are all just roses waiting for the next season to bloom. And roses are perennial.