Author Jillian Lauren’s second memoir (her third book) begins by taking us back briefly to her first best-selling memoir, Some Girls, which detailed her earlier life in a harem. At the opening of Everything You Ever Wanted, Lauren has met her future rock star husband and the details of those colorful, broken years come spilling out over the table at a throw-back local Los Angeles diner.
We, like Lauren, know there will be no judgment for her past, not from the man who recognizes she has “guts for trying to change” her life. The author clues us in that this is the beginning of a hard-earned second act; this is her “redemption story.” And while the book is accurately titled, it will be nothing that she expects.
Three stories of motherhood and family intertwine their roots in this book: Lauren’s own adoption as a baby; her long struggle with infertility; and the family finally completed with the adoption of her son, T, from Ethiopia. Each long winding root, however, comes with its own revelations and regrets, its own understanding and failures. These are the places Everything You Ever Wanted explodes with emotion and truth. Lauren is a daughter, wife, mother who can sharply articulate a most elemental human desire: to belong to some right place in this life. At the same time, she comes back to our nagging universal anxiety—is everyone else bound to be happier than we?
This is a woman’s story about becoming an adoptive mother and facing her own dark fears and truths. When confronted with violence from her past and her own sudden unwelcome understanding of rage, Lauren, filled with a shame most mothers know intimately, admits, “I could never summon any compassion for people who hit their kids. How could you? I’d think. What kind of monster are you? Now I know what kind of monster.”
Motherhood, Lauren learns, will show you for better and worse of what you are capable. And you have to live with that.
Thus this is also a story about becoming humbled by one’s desires and self-doubts. Lauren’s struggles will resonate with parents profoundly, but anyone who has wanted something with every bit of her heart only to question her worthiness upon its arrival will see herself in Lauren.
When T’s significant behavior problems become apparent early on, like any good mother Lauren tries every contradictory measure to help him, without success. So she blames herself:
“I fear their judgment, but mine is worse: if I were just around more, if I didn’t have a babysitter, if I never yelled at him, if, if, if . . . Tears prick my eyes. Did I think that motherhood was going to make me feel a part of something? It has done exactly the opposite. I’m more isolated than I’ve ever been.”
Every dream comes with a hopeful promise and a harder truth.
But Lauren is without question the heroine of her own life, and as she deepest down suspects she will be, that of her son’s. She is not broken, as she feared, but bolstered by tragedy and disappointments. Both hers and young T’s lives will heal greatly and largely because Lauren never stops fighting for her son; as parents, we may repair our own wounds when we work to heal the hurts of our children.
With biting humor and inspired self-awareness, she negotiates the ridiculousness of modern parenting in Los Angeles (at mommy-and-me yoga, “One of the mom reads The Very Hungry Caterpillar in an enthusiastic stage whisper.”); the cruelty of systems meant to help our children; and the sacredness of her marriage that must withstand career separations, extreme family drama, and every trapping of a real life.
Lauren’s memoir reads as a real time journey from her despair and envy in infertility through a motherhood marked by curling up next to a sleeping child one night and lowering her head on the dining table to pray in frustration and tears another. We can agree on every page that happily ever after is a day-by-day affair.
Early in Everything You Ever Wanted, when she and her husband are considering adopting a child, Lauren describes the sensation of sitting in an adoptions seminar, “This just feels like a roomful of people we should be with.”
Her story will leave you with a similar feeling.
[closed]Giveaway: Leave a comment below for a chance to win your own copy of Everything You Ever Wanted. Winner will be chosen by me via random.org on Friday, May 22nd and notified by email. Purchase Jillian Lauren’s new memoir here.