“Everyone Is Beautiful is for every woman who has ever struggled to find, hold on to, and nurture authenticity in the midst of that wild, messy, wonderful thing called motherhood.”—Brené Brown
Lanie Coates’s life is spinning out of control. She’s piled everything she owns into a U-Haul and driven with her husband, Peter, and their three little boys from their cozy Texas home to a multiflight walkup in Boston. She’s left behind family and friends—all so her husband can realize his dream of becoming a professional musician. But somewhere in the eye of her personal hurricane, it hits Lanie that she once had dreams too . . . if only she could remember what they were.
These days, Lanie always seems to prioritize herself last—and when another mom accidentally assumes she’s pregnant, it’s the final straw. Fifteen years, three babies, and more pounds than she’s willing to count since the day she said “I do,” Lanie longs desperately to feel like her old self again. It’s time to rise up, fish her moxie out of the diaper pail, and find the woman she was before motherhood consumed her entire existence.
Lanie sets change in motion—joining a gym, signing up for photography classes, and finding a new best friend. But she also creates waves that come to threaten her whole life. Balancing motherhood and me-time, marriage and independence, and supporting loved ones while also realizing her own dreams, Lanie must figure out once and for all how to find herself without losing everything else in the process.
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The day I decided to change my life, I was wearing sweatpants and an old oxford of Peter’s with a coffee stain down the front. I hadn’t showered because the whole family had slept in one motel room the night before, and it was all we could do to get back on the road without someone dropping the remote in the toilet or pooping on the floor.
We had just driven across the country to start Peter’s new job. Houston, Texas, to Cambridge, Massachusetts. I’d had the kids in our ten year-old Subaru the whole drive, two car seats and a booster across the back. Alexander kept taking Toby’s string cheese, and the baby, except when he was sleeping, was fussing. Peter drove the U-Haul on the theory that if it broke, he ’d know how to fix it.
On the road, I was sure I had the short end of the stick, especially during the dog hours of Tennessee. But now Peter was hauling all our belongings up three flights of narrow stairs, and I was at the park, on a blanket in the late-afternoon shade, breast-feeding Baby Sam. Peter had to be hurting. Even with our new landlord helping him, it was taking all day. And I was just waiting for him to call on the cell phone when he was ready for us to come home. Or as close to home as a curtainless apartment stacked high with boxes could be.
We ’d been at the park since midmorning, and we were running low on snacks. Alexander and Toby were galloping at top speed, as they always did. I’m not even sure they realized they were in a new park. They acted like we might as well have been at home, in Houston, the only place they’d ever lived. They acted like the last five days of driving hadn’t even registered. I, in contrast, was aching with loss.
I didn’t like this park. Too clean, too brand-new, too perfect. The parks at home had character—monkey bars fashioned like cowboys, gnarled crape myrtle trunks for climbing, discarded Big Wheels with no seats. And we’d known them backward and forward—every tree knot, every mud hole, every kid.
This park, today, felt forced. It was trying too hard.
I surveyed the moms. Not one of them, I decided, was a person I wanted to meet. And just as I was disliking them all and even starting to pity them for having no idea what they were missing, park-wise, Toby— my middle boy, my sandy-haired, blue-eyed, two-year-old flirt—watched a younger kid make a move for the truck in his hand, and then, unbelievably, grabbed that kid’s forearm and bit it.
The little boy screamed as Toby pulled the truck to his chest. “My truck!” Toby shouted. (He always pronounced “truck” like “fuck,” but that was, perhaps, another issue.)
And then, of course, all hell broke loose.
I jumped up, startling the baby out of a nap and off my boob. I ran across the park, wailing baby on my shoulder, shirt unbuttoned, shouting, “Toby! No!” Toby saw my horrified face and instantly started to cry himself—though he was no match for the little kid he ’d bitten, who was now screaming like he was on fire. His mother, too, had sprinted from her perch, dropping her purse on the way, and was now holding him as if he’d been shot. “Is it bleeding?” she kept asking the boy. “Is it bleeding?”
It was clearly not bleeding. Isn’t that the number one rule of parenting? Don’t Make Things Worse?
All the other parents, meanwhile, had gathered around us to see what the heck was going on. My shirt was hanging open, the baby was still shrieking, and I remembered from one of those parenting books I used to read—back when I used to do that type of thing—that when a child bites, the parent of the biter must give attention to the bitee. I turned toward the little boy and reached out to comfort him, and, at the same moment, his mother actually tightened her grip on him and rocked away from my hand so that I missed him altogether. As if I myself had done the biting.
As if I were about to attack again.
I regrouped. “I’m so sorry about that, sweetheart!” I said to the boy, who was not, you might say, in a listening mode. Next, I tried his mother.
“I’ m so sorry!” I said. “He ’s never done that before!” She was staring at me, but not at my eyes, and it took me a second to realize that it was, in fact, my uncovered magenta nursing bra she was looking at. I buttoned my shirt and started to try again when Alexander took that moment to push Toby down and take the very truck that had started all this commotion.
Toby let out a wail like a scalded dog, and Alexander threw the truck with all his might into a nearby bush. “No biting!” he said, pointing at Toby. “Biting is rude!” Toby got up to run after the truck and soon they were both tangled in the bush, wrestling for it.
Here was a moment when I was truly outnumbered. With two kids, in moments like this, you at least have an arm for each. With three kids, you’re just screwed.
“Stop it! Both of you!” I shouted, sounding just like my own mother
had years ago when she had been outnumbered, too.
And then, I did the only thing I could think of. I set Baby Sam down on the sidewalk—at ten months, he wasn’t crawling yet, or even thinking about it—stepped into the bush, took the truck, and wedged it high in the branch of a tree. Then I grabbed the two boys by the scruffs of their necks, dragged them to our blanket, sprinted back over to my now almost-purple-with-hysteria Baby Sam, picked him up, put him on the boob, and then marched back to where the boys were.
“Anybody who moves off this blanket gets a spanking,” I said in my meanest mom voice, sounding for all the world like a 1930s gangster. It was an empty threat. Peter and I weren’t spankers. And I wasn’t about to spank anybody in front of the still-gaping crowd of Cambridge parents ten feet away. But, honestly, what else was I going to do? Send the boys to their room? I wasn’t even entirely sure where our apartment was. The bitee and his mother eventually gathered themselves up and limped out of the park, giving us the cold shoulder the whole way. It occurred to me that park etiquette probably dictated we should be the ones to leave. But, since we were waiting on Peter, we stayed. I tore open some cheese sticks. Alexander and Toby soon forgot about the whole thing— though not until after I’d given them the best talking-to I could muster about how we all had to work together in this time of transition—and they were back on the swings in no time. Alexander, sweetly, got down again and again to give Toby another push.
The old crop of parents trickled out, replaced by the after-work crowd. This batch was preppier and wealthier—pushing Bugaboos and carrying $200 diaper bags. One woman caught my eye as someone I might like to be friends with. She wore stylishly frayed khakis and clompy leather sandals. I kept an eye on her and willed her to come over and talk to me. The bitee ’s mother excepted, I hadn’t talked to an adult since ten o’clock that morning, when we’d said good-bye to Peter.
And then she did come over. Her daughter toddled up to our blanket wanting to look at Baby Sam, who was now eating from a spilled constellation of Cheerios in front of him. The mom stood beside us, and I squinted up at her in the late-afternoon sun. I could tell she wanted to ask me a question. And from the way she was composing herself, I guessed it was a good one. I was hoping for “You’re new here, aren’t you?” or something like it. Something that might lead to a real moment of exchange between the two of us, or, at the very least, a phone number from her and an invitation to call. I’d only been away from home six days, but already I was hungry for friends.