Before Me

I got to spend part of this afternoon on a task I have been looking forward to for months: finally opening up the last of the boxes and unpacking Gary’s and the kids’ things, getting the house ready to be bursting at the seams instead of rattling around with just me and 3 rambunctious cats.

I pulled a box out of Gary’s closet, hunting for a particular framed picture of his parents to put in the living room, and found myself getting comfy on the floor next to the box instead, pulling out albums and boxes and envelopes of pictures. I have seen all of them before, when Gary shared them with me, handing them to me one at a time with a smile and a story for each one. It was different looking at them today, snapshots of a history, a world I was not part of, a tangle of timeline without my footprints.

Gary and I have not had jealousy issues with the fact that both of us were married before; maybe it’s because we’ve both been there, and we both understand that we each have a long story woven before our paths crossed. I think it’s simply something you must accept at our ages, at our stages in life, that there is a lot we did not share together. I don’t believe that eliminates a future. It simply means things need to be placed in perspective and respected. If I blew up in a jealous rage every time Gary and the kids shared stories of holidays, moments, events, and memories that don’t include me, I’d be a very unhappy (and annoying) individual, and I’d destroy that precious time they have together, remembering. Wolverine and Gary will finish each other’s sentences, laughing at how differently they remember the same event, each swearing their version is the correct one, while Bear and Sunflower pipe up, “Where was I? In Mommy’s tummy?” and find their place in each story. They each light up and seem to grow closer in the retelling; it would be devastatingly selfish to fume instead of enjoying and feeling honored at watching them in these moments.

One of my brother’s college girlfriends used to get furious when he and I shared “inside” jokes, laughing at things she didn’t understand, couldn’t understand, because they were about things that happened when we were little. Even though we would explain what we were laughing at, trying to draw her into our world by sharing the story behind our silly jokes, it wasn’t enough. She wanted us to stop laughing about anything that didn’t include her, apparently, and it placed her on my bad side very quickly. I understand being uncomfortable if made to feel like an outsider, but instead of accepting the invitation to learn more about my brother’s life before her, she slammed that door shut and commanded that we don’t open it either.

I don’t want to do that to Gary, or to the kids. It has led to a level of comfort where Gary shares stories of the kids, and of their mother, with a smile on his face, remembering happier times, and when he showed me that box of photos for the first time, it was a beautiful journey into the children’s births, their first days and years, birthdays, Christmases, visits with relatives, times with an intimacy that I felt privileged to have even a tiny glimpse into. I saw baby pictures and marvelled at how beautiful the kids have always been, smiled with recognition at the bits and pieces of personality and quirks I see in the kids now, already blossoming in those photos.

What I say next may seem strange. I don’t even know if I can explain it. The smiles, the love, the closeness in those pictures…are to be treasured, protected, valued. What came before me was a love, no matter what turns it took since then, and the creation of four wonderful kids who still see their parents with innocent eyes, with untainted hearts, and who don’t see an “ex” in front of “mommy” or “daddy”. I don’t want to mar that, step on that, or prevent them even unconsciously from being able to hold onto that by sharing their stories, by looking mischievously at their father and starting with “Remember that time that I…” and bursting out laughing before they can finish, letting Gary pick up the thread and tell me the story, usually something that got one of the kids in trouble at the time but is funny now.

I didn’t find the picture I was looking for, but I was still glad I happened to open that box again.

About TheSmirkingCat

I am endlessly trying to make sense of a world that has completely and unapologetically lost its mind.
This entry was posted in jealousy, kids, love, memories. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Before Me

  1. Meesha says:

    Wow–inspiring post. I wish I could think about things that unselfishly.

  2. I agree with you. I don’t have any control over what and who came before me, and all of it helped make the wonderful man that I’m married to. That being said, my hubby was not married before(even though he had a couple of serious relationships), but I was married and had two kids. I am not comfortable about going through that stuff with him. I don’t know if he has seen many of the pictures of my married life, but he has seen pics of the boys as babies. Maybe I am more worried about how he would feel about it. I can only hope that he would be as wonderful as you are. 😉

  3. You are a very wise woman!Gary and the kids are lucky to have you.

  4. Dijea says:

    You are an amazing woman. Very few would think that way.

  5. Smirking Cat says:

    I don’t think any other way of looking at it would preserve my sanity, the harmony of a relationship with Gary, or the rights of the kids to enjoy their memories and keep their relationship with both parents. So no, I’m definitely not amazing, but thank you; I have just examined my emotions and the situation deeply enough to see that what rises to the top is the look on the kids’ faces when they point out themselves in older pictures, want to tell me the story about it, and when they naturally mourn what isn’t there anymore.

  6. macocha says:

    I would say what a very mature way to approach the situation. Especially if you were to throw a tizy – then the kids would feel awkward or even resentful that they aren’t “allowed” to be comfortable in their own feelings of their parents in their own homes. I commend you that maturity and wish all families had that same approach! The kids will be more comfortable in their enviroments and be much more successful in everyday life and future relationships they have.

  7. Stephanie says:

    I agree with you. Those memories are their memories, no matter what has happened since then. Just this weekend, we were discussing Velma’s birth story and I don’t really have any details about it besides what exists on her birth certificate. I said, “Why don’t you call your Mom and see what she can tell you? She was THERE.”She skipped happily off into the other room to do just that. Though I loathe The Egg Donor (ED), and pretty much everything she stands for, I LOVE the kids and want them to remember those times with the happiness and love they deserve.And I, like you, don’t care that I wasn’t there for that. I didn’t have to be. I’m doing exactly what I should be, exactly where I am, right now. I don’t have to take away their past to build a present and a future with them.

  8. phairhead says:

    Hmmmm… yr a kool chick. Boyfriend still has his wedding photos. it makes me rather uncomfortable. No kids in case you were wondering

  9. Smirking Cat says:

    It’s quite different with no kids involved. The kids’ relationships with their parents should continue no matter what happens with the relationship between the parents. Kids are a very strong and very important tie. With no kids, I don’t see a need to hang onto pictures and mementos of past relationships. I kept one wedding picture a long time because my hair turned out awesome that day, ha ha. I didn’t mind if we cut out the groom, but I really wanted to save that good hair day.

  10. I’m not sure why there is a difference if there are children in common or none, a person has a right to their history. A new partner shouldn’t have a say in whether or not to hold onto historical mementos for someone else. I see those things as a person’s history and right to it, with or without children shared.My husband has kept all of his pictures and memories before me. There are old girlfriends, friends and family in them. They are his memories to do with as his wishes…not as I wish.If I’m uncomfortable with it, it’s my problem, not his.

  11. Smirking Cat says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. Smirking Cat says:

    Whereas kids and parents have an ongoing and continued relationship present, past couples do not. I see no point to saving pictures and ticket stubs or any of the other accumulated things from past relationships. I have no tie to them anymore beyond we shared life together for a while. I am not particularly sentimental.

  13. mean stepmom says:

    I still have a wedding photo from my first marriage hanging on the wall. I’m the only one in the photo, a shy, naive girl of 21 years, standing in an $800 ivory gown, since sold at consignment. I keep the photo to remember who I once was, how much I have grown, and how happy I am to be where I am now. I don’t think my husband minds. We both have pasts that we’d rather forget, and that helps bond us even closer.

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