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'Where's Mommy?'

'Where's Mommy?'

As a single father, Gary Simeone expected challenges in raising his son. But the challenge of answering his son's tough questions caught him off guard.

Parents’ Day at St. Gertrude’s School was a community tradition. My wife and I and our 2-year-old, Alex, were looking forward to finally taking part in the event, meeting other parents and having fun as a family. That morning, though, my wife and I got into a heated argument and she ended up storming out of our apartment. I knew she was angry, but I expected her to come back.

She didn’t.

I took Alex to Parents’ Day alone. I felt awkward, and sorry for my son. My wife and I separated shortly thereafter.

At first, Alex stayed with my wife’s parents, while we each found places of our own. After a few weeks, Alex moved in with me, while his mom promised to visit him every day.

She kept her promise at first. But over time, those visits became less and less frequent until she was only seeing him maybe once a week. She had had a nervous breakdown, and was then diagnosed with residual-type schizophrenia.

Alex and I fell into a routine: We’d wake up at the same time (not easy), get dressed, and eat breakfast together. We’d pack his R2D2 backpack, then sometimes we’d have to change his clothes. After a while I learned to dress him after breakfast.  

In the evening, we’d stop at the grocery store on the way home. My wife always did the food shopping, so this was an adjustment. I was used to heating the leftovers of my fast-food lunch for my dinner. It wasn’t an easy breakup with garlic knots and chicken wings, but now I had to make sure dinner was healthy enough for a growing little boy.

After his 3rd birthday, our days had a new component: never-ending questions.

Where does that pipe go, Daddy?

Why is there so much sand at the beach?

Why don’t dogs meow?

Where is Mommy, Daddy?

That last one soon became the most frequent one I heard. And, of course, it was the hardest to answer. How do you tell a 3-year-old boy that his mother is mentally ill and therefore unfit to raise him? How do you tell your son that any stress at all could unhinge the slow progress she was making? And that he, in effect, could be “stress?”

I gave up on finding a neat, easy answer. So I said Mommy wasn’t feeling well, but when she was better, she would visit more often. I said that Mommy loves him just as much as Daddy does, that she thinks about him all the time.

Then: “Will Mommy live with us again?”

Looking into my son’s eyes and saying “Maybe not” has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

Alex and I are moving along. He is a bright, inquisitive, and thoughtful child. He has lots of little friends at preschool, and is learning to ride a bike, with training wheels. He adores Paw Patrol and Jake and the Never Land Pirates.

As for his mother, when she takes her medication, she is able to function and is trying to work her way back into his life as much as she can. While we will probably never be a whole family unit again, we’re trying to make Alex’s life the best it can be. 

No matter what happens, though, I’ll be right there when he takes his training wheels off.

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Author: Gary Simeone, a Garden City, Long Island, native, has written for many local publications, including "Newsday," "the Herald," and "Anton News". See More

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