As a general rule, Claire assumes that everyone else has everything figured out. At the various mom groups she often finds herself a part of these days, she stares in hopeless wonder at the homes so easily filled with children's toys and washable crayons, the sleek kitchen counter tops and neat rows of wedding-registry appliances. Is she content, Claire asks over and over, not of herself, but of the women around her.
As another general rule, Claire is almost never content. Each time she achieves something big in her life — college, marriage, masters degree, baby — she moves immediately on to worrying about the next — published book, cross-country move, second baby. Sometimes she convinces herself that she is just being ambitious, a good thing. But the rest of the time she forces herself into sitting in hot baths on weekday nights, trying to be present to the current state of her life.
Claire lost both of her parents to cancer during her teens and early twenties, and it's made her into a frantic, yet thoughtful kind of person. For Claire, gaining this new person in her life — her little daughter — has somehow been just as violent and traumatic as losing the two other people she had once loved just as much.
She's not a bad mom, nor is she disappointed by the act of parenting. For Claire it has been terrifying to fall so in love with a person whose very existence is so fragile. It's also that becoming a mother has caused her to think more about her place in life and who she wants to be in this world than she ever had before. So much so that often her head hurts from it. And it's from this place that she stares in wonder at the other moms at the playground whose lives seem so carelessly easy.
Claire often envies her husband for his seeming state of perpetual calm. Even through some of the hardships they have faced in their short time together — lost jobs and financial set backs — Greg has remained relaxed and steady. She often worries that she isn't quite the woman he thought he was getting when he asked her to move from California to Chicago shortly after they met.
She had been happier and lighter then, less questioning of every corner of her existence. But that had been an easier time, right? She had been younger, prettier, with less obligations and more future. Claire herself wonders if she'll ever find her way back to that self again, and worries that it won't happen until she is in her fifties or sixties, like a character in a depressing romantic comedy film.
On this brisk, November day we find Claire in the back corner of her favorite coffee shop. She props an elbow on the table, flicks her longish brown hair away from her shoulder and stares out the window at a passing bus. She is here to write, to work on her memoir, a word she finds both conceited and pathetic.
On this particular day she has a feeling of gnawing anxiety mixed with excitement about the coming six months. She places her long fingers on the keyboard, biting the inside of her lip and takes an invisible breath.