book review: Dish, by Barbara Moses

Dying tulips
fading tulips (drawn using Sketchbook Mobile Express on my phone)

Oh, these alliterative blog scheduling tricks make life so much easier (if I can stay on the wagon and keep them going).
So if friday forte is all about me getting through middle age and making sense of my life, how about a mid-life monday to share some of the awesome resources I’m shamelessly plundering for advice? (It seemed like a good plan at the time so bear with me).

Dish, by Barbara Moses (2006) is one of those aforementioned awesome resources. I read an article written by Dr. Moses which spurred me onto googling and thus finding this amazing book. It’s subtitled “Midlife Women Tell the Truth about Work, Relationships and the Rest of Life” which describes exactly what’s inside the cover and it doesn’t disappoint. As a recently outed midlife woman who is searching for points of reference in her life road map, I was incredibly grateful my local library had it on its shelves when I went looking.

I feel like everything is bubbling to the surface. Although I don’t know what my ‘what next’ is, I have a palpable sense that it’s almost around the corner.”

The book is distilled from an email survey Moses sent out to women in her network and those in her career/life planning business (the survey questions are include in an appendix along with discussion topics suggested for book clubs). The chapters range from the corporate world thru career change, motherhood and childlessness, to relationships and friends. After reading the first two introductory chapters, introducing background and life experiences common to many of today’s midlife women I glanced through the barely-relevant-to-me career chapters and settled into one my favourites, Moving Forward with Grace (Who You Are and What You Need in this Life Chapter). With subheadings like Finding Your Truth in the Second Half, and Everyone’s Truth is Different, this chapter spoke volumes to me, seeming particularly apt for the times/questions I am going through. With an emphasis on grace, and a useful description of different types of truth seekers, this chapter reminded me that it is possible to move ahead seamlessly, accomplishing a lot without flurry but it is equally valid to ‘make a big noise’. As she notes in the text,

“This is my time now” but concedes that the reason many women do end up conflicted  as they “.. are restless, if not unhappy, … they are yearning to fulfill all their needs and play out all these roles. This is easier for those few women who are childless, or have adult children, no elder-care responsibilities, and a degree of financial freedom. For the rest, trying to juggle work and family or to save for retirement is an endless struggle.” 

I appreciated the validation.

My next two go-to chapters were the whoppers; Motherhood and Relationships, both easily the largest in the book. A lot of pages were devoted to these two areas and a lot of useful wisdom imparted. Both discussed the turmoil, strifes and struggles involved with being a mid life woman in these aspects of life. The Mothering chapter explored the worries and insecurities involved in modern day parenting, the constant search for the right balance between “quality time” and investing in ourselves without screwing up the kids too much. No hard-and-fast road map but the worklist at the end of the chapter is a useful checklist. There are affirmatory comments from women who need the external stimulation that working outside the home brings in order to feel like a good mother, and also cautionary bon mots about being honest with your limitations.

“… countless workshops where a female manager says, “I always put my kids first,” and then her staff roll their eyes. One woman confided, “My boss laves the office at seven-thirty, and routinely calls from her cell on the way to work at seven in the morning. She always brags about how close she is to her kids. Do the time math.”

Mums – you really do owe it to other mothers to be completely straight up honest about how you manage your childrearing. Maybe then we won’t get embroiled in the mommy wars over and over again.

The Relationship chapter is subtitled What We Want, Know or Should Know by Now and it delivers the goods, from women who are in steady and blissfully supportive partnerships to those who found the only way back to themselves was to divorce the guy holding them back. It is a no-holds barred look at midlife companionship, wedded bliss or otherwise, sex, affairs and being single. There is apparently nothing that mid life women are not doing. Each chapter features quotes from the email survey; in this chapter they are especially poignant, ranging from “My husband thinks my aspirations are less important because I make less money than he does” and “Many of my married friends are lonelier than I am” through “I fear growing old alone. It terrifies me” to “My partner is my second skin.” There are some incredibly sad reflections on marriage and being single/divorced and there are also some amazingly comforting remarks about long term monogamy too. The chapter, Women Confidential: Secrets of the Sisterhood, about friends and their importance follows on from the exhortation to;

“Create a life that is not dependent on a partner. Maintain your interests and friendships. Have an identity outside your relationship. Be capable of amusing yourself. Only you can make yourself whole.”

I totally enjoyed this book. It was one of a few which I have walloped through at a gallop, thus signifying (to me) engaging content, expert writing style and valuable content. I hesitate to recommend to any woman under thirty because you might just miss the point – mid life and coming into your own – but then again, there are some wise souls out there who can store away the nuggets for later use. I had a love/hate relationship with some of the type-casting that went on in each chapter. What kind of mother are you? and what kind of motivational type do you fit into? were initially peeves but on re-reading, they do help focus, personalise and digest the rest of each chapter. It’s not a popularity contest and no one is overall winner. I loved how each chapter concluded with a work list of topics to address, and the end of the book was taken up with a list of fourteen secrets “for success” (early on in the book Moses confesses to unease about using the S-word). In short, this book made me feel that I’m not alone in trying to make sense of my midlife situation. Although a lot of it is career/continuation of career focused, it had a lot of reassurance for a longtime unemployed expat mother such as myself. I felt like I was in good company and validated, one of the most important relational needs to be filled once the basics of shelter, nutrition, etc are in place.

Add this book to your midlife road map – I recommend it!

//

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