The best-selling author of Never Unfriended opens up about midlife and what it feels like to have outgrown those teenage jeans—but finally grown into the shape of our souls.
“I want to give Lisa-Jo’s book a standing ovation.”—Aarti Sequeira, chef and TV personality
Do you ever wonder how you woke up one day with all the responsibilities of a grown-up who secretly enjoys buying groceries in bulk, can no longer recognize the tween celebrities on the magazines at checkout, but is still surprised when a Starbucks barista calls you “ma’am”—because your inside self is frozen in time to about twenty years ago?
So does Lisa-Jo Baker.
In these intimate reflections on midlife, Lisa-Jo invites us to get a good look at our middles and gives us permission to embrace them—beyond what the media, the mirror, or the magazines say. Through gutsy, beautiful storytelling, she admits out loud what most of us are thinking about marriage, parenting, the bathroom scale, and how badly we all want to buy those matching Magnolia Market mugs.
Her delicious stories come from not being afraid of who she is, because Lisa-Jo knows that the middle might be the best part of the love story of life, kids, faith, doubt, marriage, failure, wonder, and the muffin top—and that these are all good things. She’s not asking you to seize the day, just to make sure you actually see it for all its wildly ordinary glory.
Welcome to the middle!
Praise for The Middle Matters
“What a thought-provoking collection of reflections and wisdom! Through personal stories about love, loss, and life in the middle, Lisa-Jo invites us to take a long look inside our own mind’s secret nooks and crannies, which aren’t nearly as dark, scary, or ordinary as we might think.”—Layla Palmer, The Lettered Cottage blog
“With captivating wit, hard-won wisdom, and breathtaking honesty, Lisa-Jo has written a love letter to the delicious middle.”—Mandy Arioto, president and CEO of MOPS International and author of Have More Fun
“With Lisa-Jo’s guts as our unfettered guide, may we finally learn the sumptuous truth of our years: that a grilled cheese sandwich without the middle is just toast.”—Erin Loechner, founder of OtherGoose and author of Chasing Slow
“Thank you, Lisa-Jo, for reminding women everywhere how important it is to find meaning in the midst of the confusing middle.”—Joy Prouty, artist and educator
|Publisher:||The Crown Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
With her ability to laugh at herself and her mistakes, Lisa-Jo Baker continues to gather women around her into a community that is tired of hearing how things are supposed to be (perfect or easy) and passionate about hearing how things actually are (hard, scary, stretching, and wonderful). A former attorney, sought-after national speaker, and longtime community manager at (in)courage, Lisa-Jo is the best-selling author of Never Unfriended and Surprised by Motherhood. Her writings have resonated with thousands and have been featured on HuffPost Parents, BibleGateway, Fox News, Christianity Today, IF:Table, and more. She is the cohost of the Out of the Ordinary podcast and lives just outside Washington, DC, with her husband of more than twenty years and their three very loud kids.
Read an Excerpt
Welcome to the Middle!
Once upon a time, I had no idea what a muffin top was. That time, my friend, has long passed. I’m in my forties now, and me and my muffin top—that chubby little bulge of tummy that refuses to stay tucked away behind the top button of my jeans but insists on grinning around at the world over the top of my waistband—are on the closest of terms. Maybe more so than I would like.
It is one of the landmarks of my middle. Literally. And metaphorically. Because when I bump up against that chunky midsection that I’m trying to accept, it’s with the same surprise I feel late at night after I’ve exhausted another day of being in charge of my own life and the lives of all these people who live in our house, plus the cats.
I keep waiting to feel like a grown-up while going through all the grown-up motions. I’m not sure if these are the things you’re supposed to say out loud. But isn’t it weird to have all the responsibilities of a grown-up and look like a grown-up and have a grown-up job and a grown-up mortgage and still not be sure how or when to change the air filters?
It’s a shock to find myself here in the middle. I’m pretty much at the halfway point of my life. What on earth? In true muffin-top character, it is not glamorous. This middle is mostly the part where it’s easy to pass by without slowing down long enough to pay attention. You just want to tuck that chubby midsection into your pants, drape a flowy shirt over it, and call it “good enough.” You know what I’m talking about, yes? What this middle, muffin-top stage of life looks like?
Maybe like me you’ve now lived longer with your man than without, and that’s insane. Because when you were eighteen, maybe you also swore you’d never be anyone’s wife or mother, and now he knows every nook, cranny, and (let’s face it) pockmark of your “wonderland.” And you are a reluctant connoisseur when it comes to the entire range of his nightly snore repertoire. You both wear glasses and secretly enjoy going to Costco. Your kids are toddling into middle school or high school instead of just around your living room. And while on the outside you look like a grown-up, your inside self is still frozen in time at your favorite age, but you no longer recognize the tween celebrities featured on magazines at the checkout aisle.
Instead, you leaf through the home decor mags while waiting to pay for the mound of food it now takes to feed your constantly starving tiny humans who are no longer tiny and sometimes walk into the living room, wink, and call you “Woman!” Your kids are human Shazams for all the songs you no longer recognize on the radio, and when you watch movies these days, you’re rooting for the parents instead of the angsty teens.
There are so many soccer and football and dance practices that you often drive to the wrong location or show up at the wrong time on the wrong day. And maybe there’s still one little left in the house who gets schlepped along to all the bigs’ sporting events, and you end up feeling bad for her and sometimes for yourself that you both have to be on the bleachers so much. None of these are bad things—they’re just the pebble stuck in the bottom of your shoe that at first is only annoying but on the hard days makes you want to throw that shoe across the room.
Welcome to the muffin-top middle!
Normal feels all stretched out and squidgy around the edges when you’re splitting time and to-dos, yet it’s the stuff of life and marriage and kids and work that everyone lives. And now there’s also the reality of retirement as more than just that infomercial you used to fast-forward through but also something you will actually need in the no-longer-distant future. And there’s the no-less-essential investment of fighting for time to keep dating the man you’re raising kids with so you feel like a couple and not just a couple of people running a summer camp together.
Add to that the more mundane (but still significant) figuring out of new school systems that require you to give five days’ advance notice to make a change to the bus schedule and how that complicates organizing playdates for while you’re out of town. (Although your kids tell you that you’re embarrassing them and “It’s not a playdate, Mom; it’s called hanging out.”) But you’re the grown-up, and while this still surprises you, this is the work of grown-ups: organizing the boring details that keep a family chugging along.
This is the stuff of our seasons right now. How we wake up to morning breath and steal quickie Sunday afternoon love and hope we can also squeeze in a just-as-sexy nap. These are the years of driving the curving bends of our neighborhood between school and practices and parent-teacher conferences and games and study sessions and recitals and the gas station and the grocery store, every morning and afternoon and evening and never getting tired of the golden, glorious trees while we often get tired of the driving.
This is just what we do. We drive and feed and keep breaking our days and our lives wide open. We have winding conversations about sports and pop culture and try to explain Kim Kardashian to our tweens while our middles get squishier. It takes work to keep paying attention, to keep parenting with intention, because there’s a lazy side of us that just wants to hit cruise control and sleep in now that our kids are sleeping through the night. Please tell me you know what I’m talking about here?
But the stakes are higher now because our kids can remember our mistakes. Combine that with the side of insanity that comes with finally understanding what work you feel meant and fulfilled to do, while also constantly having to juggle it with the schedules of everyone else who lives in your house, including the pets. I’ve been giving eye drops six times a day to one of my kids and also one of my cats. What on earth? At night the fish need to be fed, and I never remember to actually go pick the tomatoes we tried to grow in our garden this year.
Over and over and over again.
The middle is the place where our lives really live. This is the place where we have grown into the shapes of our souls even as we might have outgrown the shapes of our jeans.
The middle is the marrow. The glorious ordinary of your life that utterly exhausts you but that you might have finally started to understand in ways you didn’t at the beginning. Listen, I’m not asking you to seize the day here; I’m just asking you to actually see it. Even if just out of the corner of one eye. The middle is worth remembering while you are actually living it, because you won’t pass by this way again.
So it’s worth slowing down long enough on random afternoons to really look around at your life and your husband and the human beings you are raising together and let it sink in that you’ve grown up and that it’s good. You are living at the very center of what will be your story. Right now. Let’s stop long enough to read a few lines of these lives out loud. Because trust me when I tell you, sister, the middle is worth reading.
The middle is ridiculous and terrible, so funny and so much fun, and also so exhausting. But it’s the stuff of the stories our kids will one day tell about us. These are the days of miracle and wonder. The stories we will one day tell each other as we laugh at all those times we spent all those hours carpooling kids all over the planet of our neighborhood. These are the stories that will line our empty nests one day. We are living the memories that will be passed down to the ones who are still living their beginnings. The middle is the gift you didn’t know you were right in the middle of, friend.
Let’s relish the middle. Let’s savor the middle. Let’s embrace the middle in all its mundane glory. Because maybe the middle isn’t so bad. Maybe we don’t want to hide it, ignore it, or miss it. Sister, maybe the middle is the part where it really starts to get good!
Table of Contents
Welcome to the Middle! 1
Part 1 Why the Middle of Your Muffin Top Matters
Your Age Is Not a Dirty Word 9
The Scale Is Not the Boss of You 18
My Favorite Muffin-Top Photo 24
The Love Story of Turning Forty 31
Part 2 Why the Middle of Your Marriage Matters
When You Think Your Love Story Is Boring 39
That Time I Thought I Lost My Wedding Ring 42
A Time to Fight 45
Ordinary Is Sexy 56
To the Father of My Children 59
Part 3 Why the Middle of Your Parenting Matters
Parenting Is Do-Overs Times Infinity 67
Sobbing in My Minivan over Honor Roll 77
What You Don't Know About Parenting 84
No One Disappoints Quite Like a Hero 93
A Promise for My Daughter 101
The Life-Saving Quirks of Our Kids 105
A Love Letter to Three of the Loudest Children I Know 112
Part 4 Why the Middle of Your Living Room Matters
Our First Home After Fifteen Years of Marriage, Three Kids, and Nine Rentals 119
Step Away from the Mugs 131
Your Front Door Is Your Superpower 136
Part 5 Why the Middle of Your Failures Matters
Why I Showed My Kids My One-Star Book Reviews 143
Financial Free Fall 148
How to Fail in Public 155
Part 6 Why the Middle of All Those Sports Practices Matters
When Our Kids Have "Unrealistic" Dreams 163
What Happens When You Lose 167
When Parenting Looks Like a 5K Race 184
All Hail the Sidelines Moms 186
I Can't Believe What I Saw You Do Last Night 190
Part 7 Why the Middle of Your Friendships Matters
A Pocketful of Friends! 197
The Gift of Years and Words 207
Church in the Parking Lot 215
Part 8 Why the Middle of Your Faith Matters
For the Thomases 227
It Was Hard to Believe My Pastor on Sunday 235
My Faith Leaks 238
Life and Grace 245
When You Wonder If You Matter At All 249
Note to Self 253
With Thanks 259