I’ve often thought that the “middle-aged spread” refers not to an expanding waistline, but to the number of years we claim middle age. Because what’s next after middle age? Old? Elderly? We need some designation between the middle and the end.
At any rate, even though I’m on the far side of middle age, Lisa -Jo Baker’s book caught my eye when it was on sale for the KIndle app: The Middle Matters: Why That (Extra)Ordinary Life Looks Really Good on You. I had heard Lisa Jo’s name but never read her, and I’ve not often seen books for this stage of life.
Lisa-Jo discusses the impact of our middle years in eight areas: our bodies, marriage, parenting (which gets two chapters), our homes, failures, friendship, and faith. “Discusses” is probably too formal a word. Each topic is addressed in three to seven essays. Lisa-Jo writes in a breezy chatting-with-girlfriends style.
It’s hard to summarize a series of essays, so I’ll just give you some samples.
One of my favorite chapters is “When You Think Your Love Story Is Boring.” The epigraph of this chapter comes from a teenager quoted in Huffington Post who feels her love life will never be adequate “until someone runs through an airport to stop me from getting on a flight.” Lisa-Jo shares many examples of love demonstrated in the everyday rather than the once-in-a-lifetime grand gesture.
He lays down his life, and it looks like so many ordinary moments stitched together into the testimony of a good man who comes home to his family driving the old minivan, the one with the broken air-conditioning (p. 40).
And this is a love life: to live each small, sometimes unbearably tedious moment… together. To trip over old jokes and misunderstandings. To catch our runaway tongues and tempers and tenderly trust them to the person who now knows firsthand our better and our much worse (p. 41).
He’s never run through an airport for me. But he goes to Walmart at 9: 30 p.m. for back-to-school supplies that we’ve had all summer to get and of course have left till the last minute. When he walks into the living room at 11: 00 p.m. with bags full of the obligatory red, green, yellow, and blue folders and all the million pre-sharpened number-two pencils, it’s the sexiest thing I’ve seen all week (p. 41).
Another chapter that I loved told of a joyous night with Lisa-Jo’s daughter’s triumph in a school program. When Lisa-Jo looked at the photos taken that evening, first she saw the joy. Then, looking more closely, she noticed a picture of her “generous muffin top bulging over her jeans as she presses up next to her daughter” (p. 26). Instead of being embarrassed or deleting the photo, she decided “There was too much happiness to ever diminish it by worrying about waistlines” (p. 26).
In “What You Don’t Know About Parenting,” Lisa-Jo tells of a time her daughter was in another program, where she struggled with what Lisa-Jo thought was pre-program jitters which would be fine once the performance started. But her daughter had full-blown stage fright, tears streaming as she danced her part. Lisa-Jo struggled with indecision as to the best course of action—sweeping her daughter off the stage or letting her finish. “I don’t know if we can ever actually protect our kids from their own fears. Maybe all we can do is show them how brave they are to face them” (p. 90). After the program was over and everything settled down, Lisa-Jo called her mother-in-law to pour out her heart.
And as mothers have always done, she listened and loved me and then encouraged me with the deep understanding born of her own lifetime of learning what you don’t know by simply walking through it. This is what we mothers do for each other—we offer our own failures as proof that our sisters and daughters, our nieces and grands, will make it through the perilous journey of mothering too. Because no matter how many books you read or podcasts you listen to, nothing can prepare you for the fall you weren’t expecting (p. 91).
When heroes fall, Lisa-Jo wants her children to know, “fame is not where we go when we’re looking for something to believe in. Neither is the pulpit nor the soccer field, nor the stage nor the movie studios, for that matter. . . . power and influence and fame can be a slippery, lying slope” (p. 95).
When her son wants to race in the Olympics:
When they ask you if you believe that they’ll make their way to the Olympics someday, what do you—that mother behind the steering wheel who can’t see the future—tell your son?
Do I really want to be the anchor here holding him back? How do I cheer for him while also being a plumb line for truth? (p. 163).
Concerning a twice-monthly potluck hosted at her home: “Some weeks I look forward to it. Some weeks I’m exhausted at the thought of it. But we just keep opening the door no matter how we feel” (p. 136).
A couple more quotes:
Sometimes friendship is a deep conversation. Sometimes it’s a shared ugly cry. But sometimes friendship is the gift of not being afraid of silence (p. 204).
I don’t have easy answers to the hard questions, whether they’re on the news or coming from your doctor or your kid’s teacher or your coworker or a dear friend. I have only the hope of a hand in mine. The hand of this man, Jesus, who isn’t afraid and who builds things that don’t sink (p. 242).
I enjoyed this book and found it very easy to read. Lisa-Jo definitely has a way with words and weaves them with humor and poignancy. Some reviewers felt the book was more of a memoir or only appealed to women in the exact same stage of life–forty-something, married with kids. But I benefited from it even though I am an older empty-nester. Even though Lisa-Jo’s style is not didactic, readers can learn much from what she shares.
(This book will count for the Nonfiction Reader Challenge, where I am doing the Nonfiction Grazer track of basically doing my own thing. 🙂 But this would also fit in the “Linked to a Podcast” category a of the challenge since Lisa-Jo has a podcast [which I have not yet listened to] with Christie Purifoy called Out of the Ordinary.)
Barbara, I read what I think was Lisa-Jo’s first book “Surprised by Motherhood” and I really enjoyed that book too, written in the same style from your description of this book. I’m glad you reviewed this one because I bought it for my Kindle a couple years ago and I had forgotten about it! I’ll be reading it soon! I’m in the same life stage as you, perhaps a bit farther as my oldest grandchild will be 14 later this week!!
I had bought it for the Kindle a couple of years ago, too. I’m not sure what spurred me to read it now, but I am glad I did. Happy birthday to your oldest grandchild!
I looked at the cover here and thought I wouldn’t be into this book at all — but after reading your book, I liked it! I do like essays that pull on our heartstrings, and it sounds like these do. I had to laugh at the thought of life not being complete until someone has run through an airport to stop me from getting on a plane 🙂
Yes, something about the cover didn’t appeal to me, either–I can’t quite put my finger on what. I was glad I got past the cover to read the book. Isn’t that wild about the airport expectation? I guess that indicates the influence of romantic movies.
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Great review. I’ll have to check this one out.
I’ve really enjoyed Lisa Jo’s books, too, even though I am also older. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on this one.
Sounds like a good book with lots of wise insights about middle-aged living. I’m well beyond that time in my life, now, but I remember the joys and angst of those middle years.
She sounds like she offers common sense, thoughtful advice. Thanks for sharing.
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I love these type of books and that women’s voices and our lives are being heard. I’ve recently read Caitlin Moran and it sounds similar.
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