"To be so unwanted and so wanted at the same time can cause a fault line in you," writes Jillian Lauren of her own experience of being adopted in her superb memoir, "Everything I Ever Wanted." Lauren, whose bestselling 2010 book, "Some Girls," chronicles her time in a harem, tracks a very different journey here: the fraught path to motherhood.
Now in a stable marriage to Weezer bassist Scott Shriner, Lauren expects motherhood to "finally unite this duality for me." When she can't get pregnant, though, she begins to split apart. She tries most everything to become pregnant: reiki and Kabbalah and colonics, even Maori tribal healers "who happen to be in town right now."
While she skewers the celebrity-driven and consumerist Southern California culture she indulges in, Lauren also writes darkly and beautifully as well: "This is what happens when you want something so intensely," she writes. "You lose all your power." Her longing to be a mother makes her "live with the flutter of failure trapped like a bird under my rib cage all the time."
Eventually Lauren and Shriner decide on international adoption. That she too is adopted is woven into the fabric of this book: She considers what her mother went through to find her, as well as what her own adopted child will face, making this journey nuanced, complex and self-reflective.
Here is where I should probably note that I have an adopted child. Being a writer and having held my own experience up to so many casts of light, I'm a very difficult nut to crack on the subject. But Lauren cracked me — cracked me up and cracked me open. In a particularly powerful portion of the book, she and her husband travel to Ethiopia with prospective adoptive parents to get their babies. Lauren and Shriner are finally introduced to their child, 11-month-old Tariku, whom they nickname T, in an orphanage. He is in "a puppy pile of adorable babies."
In a harrowing scene that follows, they meet his birth mother and exchange promises for the future. "The loss in the room — everyone's — flattens me," she writes, illuminating what is so often unacknowledged in adoption, which is that most come to the experience with a fair amount of grief.
But now, for Lauren, the journey to motherhood has finally ended. Only now that she is a mother, an altogether different journey begins, and parenting T soon overwhelms her. Lauren and Shriner soon learn that T has "special needs," largely stemming from the neurological effects of early childhood trauma. She wonders "why I ever expected motherhood to complete me rather than lay waste to me."
T's challenges and the couple's struggle to meet them constitutes the last third of this memoir. T bites and hits Lauren constantly. He is forced out of therapy and kicked out of nursery school. They fight for their child's place in the world and to find a community that is right for them, but Lauren is not terribly self-congratulatory.
She endears herself to her reader by being unsparing about her own shortcomings, particularly in regards to the story of her friend, an unstoppable addict, whom Lauren abandons. Although we see Lauren show up for this wonderful and hurt child in spectacular ways, she has certainly left a trail of pain in her wake.
Lauren finds respite in writing, but this is the least interesting aspect of this memoir. Although many readers will identify with Lauren's fight to carve out time for her work (even from her fairly privileged perch of marriage to a rock star), she spends surprising little time probing her experience with transracial adoption. When Lauren visits New York, she notes being relieved that she and T, a white woman with a black son, have gone unnoticed, but it's not clear why because there is little evidence that their different races have been acknowledged much back home in L.A. or elsewhere. These, though, are small complaints relative to the richness of this movingly told book that resonates deeply.
Lauren writes that she is often told how lucky Tariku is. She offers this as an aside here, but the notion that adoptive parents have saved their child, along with the narrative of the orphan living happily ever after à la Disney, is one that could use some deconstructing. Part of the many joys and sorrows of reading "All I Ever Wanted" is this generous and funny and intelligent writer knows that, despite the many hardships, it is in fact she who is the lucky one.
Gilmore is the author, most recently, of the novel "The Mothers."
Everything You Ever Wanted
Plume: 272 pp., $16 paper