When you read this, you’ll want to adopt Lauren Langston. Too late, though, because she’s already been adopted, but that’s part of the story.
When Lauren was born 16 years ago, the script was already written and ready to act out for her life to go into society’s Dumpster. It was a story line performed every day among us, often ending in lost lives.
Lauren was abandoned by her parents on the day of delivery, born with a cocaine addiction in her body and facing a probable 18 years of foster care. It was a predictable ticket to the streets, early pregnancy, drugs, juvenile hall and beyond.
But then, along came love. Linda Langston, her grandmother, now 68, took the 3-week-old baby out of foster care and adopted her, even though it cost her a romantic relationship. Lauren is now in grandma’s nurturing home along with her 13-year-old brother, Bryce, who is also doing well. Both are children of Linda’s son and his wife who live in New York, have a history of using and selling drugs, and have both spent time in prison.
Linda has provided her small family with a neat, spacious mobile home in a pleasant park on North El Camino Real in Oceanside, and supplies her two teenagers with their needs, largely on her Social Security income.
In Lauren, Linda has raised a smart, cute (can we still say that?) high school student with a tinkly laugh who has excelled in the classroom and become a classmate of unquestioned character.
Lauren is a junior at Oceanside’s El Camino High School, where she’s an A-minus student and an avid soccer player. Clayton Huggins, her psychology teacher, says: “Lauren’s an excellent student, quiet and intense. She’s a good kid and ready for college.”
She is also the recipient of a prized Simon Family Foundation scholarship, a substantial package of help and money that will be apportioned throughout her college years. It’s an award that goes to students who achieve academically and also overcome the type of negative life forces that can pull a young person down like gravity.
“Despite a very difficult start to her childhood, Lauren has persevered and overcome the odds. She [has] a positive optimism about life that typifies a Simon Scholar,” foundation Executive Director Kathy Abels says.
I ask Lauren to describe her high school experience. “Like, it’s a place to get ready for the real world. It doesn’t hit you with all the things the real world will hit you with, but gives you a taste of it.”
What is your biggest need in life, right now?
“Actually, I don’t desperately need a car, but it’d be helpful. My grandma is maybe going to buy me a car, I think, but I’ll pay her back somehow.”
Ah, blessed normalcy, that this girl’s life is so filled that her greatest perceived need is not love, not security, not a future, but just a car.
It is when Lauren talks about her grandma, who she calls “mom,” that she tears up. “She’s amazing. She’d already raised two kids and both of them turned out bad, so I don’t know why she wanted to try another two. But she’s always here for me, all my life. If it weren’t for her, I’d be in some foster home.”
She underscores her point with a squeezing hug of her grandmother and that cute laugh.
Linda Langston willingly traded a placid life for the hectic one of raising two frisky kids. However, complications have had to be dealt with, including a cancer bout a few years ago, and now the emergence of macular degeneration that will gradually consume her eyesight.
She worries that her health will diminish the ability to care for the kids. “They’re pretty self-sufficient right now, and if I can’t get my driver’s license renewed, Lauren should be able to drive.”
She smiles at compliments. “What I did was what I could live with. But, you know, I’ve been repaid over and over. Just the hugs and seeing them do well make everything worth it.”
“I’m just so proud of Lauren. When I adopted her, I was worried about the implications of her birth, especially about the drugs, but there’s no effect whatsoever. She’s a normal kid.”
And speaking of that, it’s not easy to corral a 16-year-old, especially when bedroom housekeeping is the issue, an eternal contention point between mothers and daughters, probably including that 15th-century teenager Joan of Arc before she left home to become a saint.
Lauren’s viewpoint is uncomplicated. “Keeping a picked-up room is not important to me. No point to it.”
Do your friends pick up their rooms?
Linda said that on the day before we talked, she went into Lauren’s room and had to scrape gooey candy off her dresser. It was not how she wanted to spend that half-hour.
I asked if she talked to Lauren about it.
“Oh, yes! Indeed I did.”
Linda said that Lauren’s father contacted his daughter a year or so ago, when he was in prison. “He was making promises to her. He was going to teach her how to surf, and all. I thought to myself: Don’t count on it. And when he was released she heard nothing more about it.”
As Linda explains, apparently her son’s wife — Lauren’s mother — demanded that he break off contact with their daughter.
The only thing Lauren can claim of her mother’s is the addiction. She explains what that means. “When my mother was pregnant with me she was doing cocaine. If I ever tried to do cocaine, I’d be addicted to it. It would make me higher than it would a normal person.”
Linda says she’s pretty much given up on her son. “I had hoped having a child would turn him around, but it didn’t. Now he’s in his late 40s, and I’m done.”
Words can mask pain, but cannot dull it.
Lauren says her favorite class is advance-placement psychology, and her ambition at this point is to be a psychologist.
“It just interests me. I haven’t found a reason why yet, but it just interests me.”
Maybe you’re on a search to understand this weird life. Does that make sense?
“Yeah, that makes sense. I want to understand why people do the things they do, maybe going back to my life’s start. And that’s, like, that’s really why I want to do it. To understand. Not fully understand, but maybe get close to it. I think.”
Are you saying you want to use psychology to understand your parents, to not be like them?
“Yeah, I definitely think so. I have questions. But I know I won’t be like them because I don’t need drugs. I know what the effects are. I don’t want to be like that.
“I heard my dad got out of prison a year ago — drugs — and now he’s with my mom in New York.”
Has there been any attempt to contact you lately?
“They send me birthday cards.”
If you spoke to them, what would you say?
“I’d ask them why they chose that lifestyle instead of trying to make something of themselves. I’d expect them to be speechless and not really know what to say. Because when you do drugs the effects become more and more because your tolerance goes up, and then you’re gone already.”
On Christmas Eve, lying beneath the tree, do you wonder what your parents are doing?
Do you think they’re thinking of you?
I push the tissues across the table and Lauren takes one. “I don’t know why I’m crying. I really don’t.”
If you ever encounter an abandoned child, be aware that a chasm will always be in their soul, aching and gaping. But if that child has a loving, understanding person like a grandmother, then there’s a chance. But, ultimately, the burden is on young, slim shoulders: heavy, but doable.
Which means that other kids born on the wrong side of life can take heart. When they made Lauren Langston, they did not throw away the mold.
Except for the merry laugh. That’s hers.
Fred Dickey of Cardiff is a novelist and award-winning magazine writer who believes every life is an adventure. He welcomes column ideas and other suggestions; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org