I Find Your Enthusiasm Irritating

I feel like I’m a contradictory person. I’m equal parts optimist and pessimist. One minute I’m a bright and cheery soul without a care in the world, the next minute I’m a dark and dreary emo kid whose thoughts are full of death and destruction. I suppose that’s why I can go straight from listening to an uplifting pop rock band like the Rocket Summer to listening to a blistering black metal band like Emperor.

These two halves of me seem mutually contradictory, but they are both equally necessary to making up the sparkling yet murky enigma that is me. At least in my warped mind, there is no darkness without light, and there is no light without darkness.

I mention all this so that you, dear reader, can gain some assurance that, as cranky and angry as I may come across in my blog, I really am a cheerful person. Except when I’m not, of course. And right now, I am not.

The source of my crankiness this week is a little difficult to explain, so bear with me. First of all, I love my kids and my wife. I just want to get that out of the way now, so that there may be no doubt later on, despite anything I may or may not say. Such as this: sometimes, I miss my life prior to having a wife and kids. I miss the days of being able to sleep as much as I wanted. I miss being able to buy as many video games as I wanted, AND having time to play them all. Ah, it was the life.

Of course, it wasn’t REALLY the life, or I wouldn’t have left it behind. At the time, I was desperate to find somebody who would be willing to put up with being my wife. And when I did finally find somebody who fell for my ploy was willing to share my life with me, I jumped at the chance to say goodbye to my bachelor lifestyle.

The thing is, I didn’t really realize at the time what I was getting myself into. And now I sometimes wonder if I would have been so eager to leap headfirst into marriage if I’d really known what marriage was like. (Again, I love my wife, so don’t read too much into anything I’m saying here.) Marriage is hard, and parenting is even harder. Sometimes, I miss those easy days when all I did was eat, sleep, play video games, work, or some combination of those four things.

In any case, it’s not really pining for my youth that’s making me cranky this week. No, my crankiness stems from the fact that some people seem to genuinely love being a parent. I mean, not like me, who loves it but sometimes wishes that he could take a break from it. No I mean like, loves it and never ever in a million years would ever give it up. These people make me cranky.

Now, I’m not sure whether it’s them and their attitude that’s making me cranky, or if it’s what their attitude says about me. All I know is, I’m cranky and I gotta take it out on somebody.

First of all, I find it very difficult to believe that these people ALWAYS think it’s perfectly wonderful to have kids. Could it be? Do they really enjoy their kids at all times? Do they never think, “Man, life was so much simpler back before I had kids”? Or is their sunny exterior really just an act? Unfortunately, I don’t know anybody like this personally, so I can’t exactly ask.

Secondly, if there really are people who never regret their child-having, why am I not one of them? Am I a bad person because I sometimes think about my kids, “Boy, if you hadn’t been born, I could be playing Halo: Reach right now”? I’m not sure I appreciate the implications about myself if these people really exist.

So basically, the real reason I’m cranky is because there are people out there who seem like they are better than me and I feel like a bad person by comparison. Frankly, I need to just stop comparing myself to other people. There is always going to be someone out there who is more attractive, or smarter, or richer, or a better parent, or whatever. There’s really not much point in trying to be “the best” at something, because there’s always going to be somebody better. Unless of course you’re Peyton Manning. But even if you are, someday there’s going to be somebody who is better than you. Just ask Brett Favre.

I’m probably going to keep on comparing myself to other people anyway, cause that’s just how I roll. I suppose that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as I keep in mind that it doesn’t make me a bad person just because I sometimes wish I didn’t have kids, or because I don’t have a Ph.D, or because my mother and my wife are the only people who comment on my blog. I just am who God wants me to be, and that’s (more than) okay.

But I digress. I still confess to being baffled that there are some people who seem like they never yearn for the simpler days before kids. Now, when my daughter snuggles her little head into my chest, I have no regrets. When my son says “Snuggle with Daddy?” and he’s not just saying it so that I won’t punish him for something, I have no regrets. When my daughter is screaming her little head off because she doesn’t have a sippy cup 5 MINUTES AGO, I have regrets. When my son is screaming his head off because I didn’t eat my lunch in the right order, oh yeah, I have regrets.

Maybe people who never regret having kids have perfect kids. I wouldn’t know what that’s like. But, I love them anyway. And even if I sometimes have regrets, I really wouldn’t ever go back. Now if only they’d just grow up and move out. I’m totally turning my daughter’s room into a man-cave the day after she leaves for college.

Things That Make Me Angry, Part 1

I don’t know if this comes across in my blog or not, but I am a very angry person, and so I have decided to make this a recurring theme on my blog. Thus, I introduce a new series, entitled “Things That Make Me Angry”. This first edition features something that is near and dear to my heart: parents who refuse to admit that their child has special needs.

I feel I’m thoroughly qualified to be angry about this sort of thing, seeing as how I have a child with special needs myself. For those who may not already know, my son has autism, and I have never once tried to deny it. I’m not thrilled about it. It doesn’t make me happy. But there’s certainly nothing to be gained from refusing to admit the truth.

I don’t know why somebody with a special needs child would refuse to admit it. The best theory I’ve come up with is that these people are afraid that if they admit that their child has special needs, then that means that they’ve failed as a parent. I can almost sympathize with this way of thinking. Almost. But as a parent, you have to put your child’s needs ahead of your own, and if you’re refusing to admit that there’s something different about your child because you think it means that you did something wrong, then you’re putting your ego ahead of your child. And that’s just wrong.

I will admit that it is difficult to have a child with special needs. If given the choice between a child with autism and one without, I would probably chose the one without. (Although I can’t say that with 100 percent certainty, as I have never had a child without autism. My daughter doesn’t count, as she is not old enough yet to determine whether she has autism or not.) When it was first suggested to my wife and I that our son might have autism, I wasn’t happy about it. I didn’t jump for joy and shout it from the rooftops. I was upset. I was devastated. But I didn’t cover my ears and sing “LA LA LA LA LA” as loud as I could. I didn’t say to the doctor, “There’s no way that MY son could have autism.” I certainly hoped that he didn’t have it. But he does, and I’ve accepted that as a part of my life, and of his.

Denying the possibility that my son could have autism would have done nothing but hurt him. If I had believed that he didn’t have it, I would not have taken him to the clinic where he was diagnosed, and he would not have gotten the therapy and education that has helped him learn how to communicate better and how to interact with other people. Granted, there is no way of knowing exactly how much the therapy has helped him. But if it has helped him at all, then it was worth it.

I guess I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t want your child to get help. Put your ego aside and do what’s best for your kid. Having a special needs child does not make you a bad parent. Nobody knows what causes autism. (As an aside, here’s a quick preview for a future installment of “Things That Make Me Angry”: vaccines do not cause autism.) If your child has autism, maybe something you did caused it. But even if that’s the case, it’s still not your fault. If no one knows what causes autism, how are you supposed to avoid the thing that causes it?

This kind of feeds into something else that makes me angry, which is the fact that there are so many bad parents out there. I’m starting to wonder if maybe there should be mandatory parent training classes in this country. Of course, that would open a whole other can of worms, but I think that it’s a good idea in principle. Being a parent is hard, and most people go into parenting without any real idea of how to do it. Heck, I have two great parents, and even I feel like I’m learning as I go most of the time. How in the world are people who had bad parents supposed to know how to raise their own children?

That’s a discussion for another time, though. Goin back to the topic at hand, I’m not just talking about kids with autism. There’s one child in particular that pops into my mind, who I will call X. X got into all kinds of trouble at school, and had serious anger management problems. Now, X’s parents had divorced when X was very young, and X was burdened by feelings of guilt. X’s teachers had suggested counseling, but X’s father insisted that there was nothing wrong. Needless to say, this attitude meant that X did not get any help, and continued to travel down the same dark road.

I’ve also encountered parents who refuse to have their child tested to see if they qualify for special education. I just don’t understand what can be gained from such an attitude. Yeah, maybe you get to avoid the stigma of having a child who’s in special ed. But at the same time, you’re denying your child access to a service that could help them get farther in life than they would without it. But hey, at least you don’t have to worry about the neighbors gossiping about your retarded kid! Because getting bad grades and dropping out of school is so much more respectable. Right.

Like so many other problems in the world, this one really just boils down to selfishness. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that selfishness really is the cornerstone of sin. After all, what is sin? Rebellion against God. And why do we rebel against God? Because we’re more concerned about what we want than what God wants, i.e. we’re selfish. So my advice to all stupid parents out there (and everyone else, in fact) is this: stop being selfish and give your life to God. There. Problem solved.

Legendary

So September 9, 2010 was apparently the 15th anniversary of the Sony Playstation. IGN.com, my favorite website for video game news and reviews, did a feature where all of the editors talked about their favorite Playstation memory. Feeling inspired, I decided to do something similar on my blog this week. But I’m not going to limit myself to the Playstation. Instead, I’m going to talk about some of my favorite video game memories in general.

Such a topic can only start with what may be my favorite video game memory of all. (Or maybe I should save the best for last? Ah, well. Here we go.) My first video game console was the Nintendo Entertainment System, as I’ve mentioned before. It was a fine console, but by 1991, I was super-ultra-mega excited for what was coming next. Nintendo’s “next-generation” console, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, had been in the works for quite some time at this point. Not only that, but Nintendo’s competitors had already released their next-gen consoles at his point, with both the Sega Genesis and the Turbografx-16 having come out way back in 1989.

Needless to say, by the time the Super Nintendo finally came out in the summer of 1991, I was very much ready for the next big thing. I remember being excessively excited just to try out a demo unit at Wal-Mart. I think I can safely say that there was really only one thing that I wanted for Christmas that year, and nothing else would have sufficed.

Back when I was a kid, Christmas was a pretty big production. Nowadays I usually get a couple of big presents and that’s it, but back then there were big presents, little presents, and in-between presents, and lots of them. But, like I said, in 1991 there was only one thing I wanted. I remember examining all the presents under the tree in the days leading up to Christmas, trying to figure out if any of them looked like a Super Nintendo box. I remember opening presents on Christmas, and getting more excited/disappointed every time I opened a present and it wasn’t a Super Nintendo.

Finally, there was only one present left. Unfortunately, it was way too small to be a Super Nintendo, so I was feeling pretty discouraged at this point, but I hadn’t completely given up hope. This last present was from my grandmother, and it was for both my brother and me. We opened it, and GLORY BE! It was a Super Nintendo game! My parents MUST have gotten us a Super Nintendo! And then my mom made a statement that made my heart stop: “Oh, Grandma must not have known that we didn’t have a Super Nintendo. I guess we’ll just have to take this back.” Just like that, Christmas was ruined.

I dejectedly made my way back to my bedroom, probably to sulk. My brother decided that, well, at least playing our old NES would be something to do. Then I heard my brother say seven words that have been etched in my memory ever since: “Hey! There’s a Super Nintendo in here!” Christmas was saved! My parents had hooked it all up the night before, and there it was, all shiny and new, just waiting for us to play Super Mario World and Actraiser. I have great parents.

Another great video game memory that I have happened nearly 10 years later. It was the year 2000. I was a year into my post-high school life, and I was working as an invoice clerk at a meat-packing plant. I was also living at home. Needless to say, I bought a lot of video games back then, but there was one game in particular that I remember vividly. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Final Fantasy series, as any regular readers of this blog know. In late 2000, I was eagerly anticipating the release of Final Fantasy IX, the last FF game on the Playstation, and a throwback to the style of earlier games in the series.

Nowadays, video games are a big business, and the video game industry is fairly efficient and regular. Like movies and music, new video games tend to come out on Tuesdays, and you can expect to find a big name game in a store the day it comes out. Back in 2000, there was no such regularity in the world of video games. Video games came out on just about any day of the week, and you never knew how big of a gap there would be between the day a game came out and the day a game would actually be available on store shelves.

At this point in time, I worked the night shift and I got done at 6 o’clock in the morning. So the day that FFIX was supposed to come out, I headed straight to Wal-Mart to see if they had it. Of course, they didn’t. Nor did they have it the next day. Or the next. In fact, I think it was about a week after the game’s release date before Wal-Mart finally got it in stock. It was a long wait, but it was well worth it. I think I beat the game in 3 days, which has got to be a personal record for me when it comes to Final Fantasy games. There’s no way I would have enough free time to do that now.

Well, those two stories took a little longer to tell than I thought they would, so I should probably end with something short. Perhaps my most satisfying video game moment of all came in 2002, when I beat the game Gunvalkyrie, which was an Xbox game. That game was insanely hard, and the last boss was particularly so. I remember that I spent 3 or 4 hours just fighting the last boss alone, but when I finally beat it, it was exceedingly satisfying. I don’t know if I’ve ever faced a greater challenge in any video game I’ve ever played.

Ah, video games. Why do I even bother with any other hobby?

Consumerism and Its Glories

I love buying things. There’s just something satisfying about having money and then spending it and getting some shiny new wizamathingy. Whenever I do get extra money, it doesn’t stay in my pocket/checking account very long before its gone. I’m not necessarily opposed to saving money, of course. It’s just that the stuff you can get with money is far more interesting/entertaining than the money itself.

Right now I’ve got the gimmies for the new iPod Touch that was just a week ago. It’s a technological marvel, it is. Camera on the front for video chats. Camera on the back for taking pictures and HD video. 960×640 resolution screen. Over 250,000 apps available to download for it. Oh, I want it. Of course it’s fairly pricey too. The one I want has 32 GB of memory and costs about $300. Quite a lot of money, but comparable to the $290 it cost for me to get a 32 GB Zune HD last year. Only the iPod Touch can do a whole heck of a lot more than the Zune HD. So, yeah, I want it.

But my somewhat obsessive desire for this shiny new gizmo has got me thinking about the stuff that people in our society desire, and why we desire it so much. Maybe this isn’t a particularly timely topic, since times are tough and the news is always full of stories about how people aren’t spending nearly as much money as they used to. But there’s certainly plenty of new stuff being introduced all the time for people to buy. Apple wouldn’t have announced a whole bunch of new iPods last week if they didn’t think anybody was going to buy them.

I’m not going to spend time talking about why we want so much stuff. I assume that different people have different reasons for wanting stuff, and it just isn’t something that particularly interests me. I guess I feel like the appeal of stuff is fairly self-evident. Maybe a foraging society would look at all our stuff and wonder why we need it all. But I doubt any foragers read my blog.

No, what I really want to talk about is how harmful (or not) our obsession with accumulating stuff is. First of all, obviously anything can be harmful if taken to an extreme. Clearly if somebody racks up thousands of dollars of credit card debt that they can’t pay, or neglects to pay their rent or electricity or whatever because they’re spending all their money on stuff, there’s definitely a problem there.

But what I’m more interested in right now is whether our consumerist habits are negative even when not taken to an extreme. I feel like I’m of two minds on this topic. First of all, I don’t need any of this stuff that I have, and I don’t need any of the stuff that I want. So why should I be spending money on any of it? But on the other hand, I certainly enjoy the stuff I have, and I’ll most likely enjoy the stuff I want once I have it. And what else am I going to spend my money on?

So I find myself in a bit of a conundrum. I enjoy the stuff I have, but I want more. And then I feel guilty about wanting more when I realize how much I already have. So I find myself going in circles a little bit. I guess the real question is, why do I feel guilty about wanting more stuff?

Well, I suppose part of it is that we have more important things to spend our money on than an iPod Touch or more video games or whatever. But I probably don’t need to feel guilty about that. I’ve never deprived my children of food or clothing or any other necessity so that I can buy a new toy. Nor have I ever told my wife she can’t buy something she really wants and then gone and bought something else that I really want. I don’t ever make any purchase without clearing it with my wife first, in fact. (Which is only fair, since she makes all the money.)

So I don’t need to feel guilty about spending money I don’t have, because I apparently don’t do that. What about time though? How much time do I spend with the stuff I own, and how much time do I spend daydreaming about stuff I want? Probably way too much. The tough part is that I have no real way to gauge how much time with me my kids need. My daughter is an infant, so she doesn’t really communicate needs other than “I’m hungry!” or “I’m tired!” or “My brother’s touching me!” As for my son, I’ve mentioned before that he has autism, so he’s just content most of the time to play by himself. He definitely enjoys it when I play games with him, but the problem is that I’m just content to play by myself as well. So a lot of the time we’re just two people who inhabit the same space, but don’t really interact.

All of this means that I worry that I don’t spend enough time with my children. Unfortunately I can’t come up with some way to spin this worry so that I don’t have to worry about it anymore. My kids don’t tell me if they need time with me, so I have no idea if I’m spending enough time with them or not. I guess the best thing to do would be to spend more time with them. But then I wouldn’t get to spend as much time with my stuff. And so it goes.

So in conclusion, as with just about anything, buying stuff is okay, but only in moderation. And spending time with stuff is okay, but only in moderation. I suppose as long as we have our priorities straight, consumerism really isn’t a bad thing. The problem is, who really has their priorities straight?

Food Is Delicious

I think at this point I’ve written pretty extensively about everything I have a passion for, except one thing. And as you may have guessed, that one thing is food. Food is a topic that is especially on my mind as I start this essay, since I am currently in the middle of doing something called a “liver cleanse.” Supposedly there are stones that form in your liver and cause all sorts of problems, and if you follow this crazy method to flush them out, you feel a lot better. Unfortunately, part of this crazy method is that I can’t eat anything for approximately 21 hours.

This is a problem because I freakin’ love food. I’m not overly picky or particular about food either. I’ll gladly eat at McDonald’s, or at a fancy, expensive restaurant, or at just about any place in between. I’m not super adventurous in my eating (I’ve never eaten insects, for example), but I’m not one to turn up my nose at most foods either.

There are problems with being a food lover, of course. An obvious one that comes to mind is that loving food makes having to do a fast almost unbearable. Also, my love of food means that I have a few more extra pounds than I probably should. And we probably spend a little too much on groceries to feed my substantial appetite. But that’s just how it goes.

In any case, food is a big deal to me. I get very cranky in the morning if something interrupts my breakfast ritual. See, I eat the same thing for breakfast every morning. I also generally eat the same thing for lunch every day as well, but breakfast is really the big one. My breakfast consists of a breakfast sandwich on an English muffin with Velveeta and either turkey bacon or a sausage patty, plus an onion bagel with cream cheese on it, a banana, and two cups of black coffee. I would imagine that it seems somewhat ridiculous to some that I eat the same thing for breakfast every morning, and I would agree. It is ridiculous.

In fact, I’ll tell you all something that’s going to make it seem even more ridiculous: I look forward to this breakfast every morning. I am not a morning person, at all. I would gladly sleep in until noon if my children and my back would let me. But there’s one thing that helps get me out of bed every morning (aside from my crying children and my aching back), and that is thought of having breakfast. Even as I sit here, with a couple of hours to go until bedtime, the thought of tomorrow morning’s breakfast is making me salivate. If that isn’t ridiculous, I don’t know what is.

There is an element of convenience to this, as well. Eating the same thing every time I eat breakfast and lunch means I don’t have to make a decision about what to have for breakfast and lunch. And making decisions is something that I am not very good at. Even if I didn’t get excessively excited about my never-changing breakfast and lunch menu, I’d probably still just eat the same thing every day, because otherwise I’d spend an hour before every meal trying to figure out what to eat.

Supper, on the other hand, is a totally different story. See, my wife and I usually eat supper together (whereas breakfast and lunch are generally eaten separately, since she works and I stay home). And my wife does NOT like eating the same thing every day. So there’s no way she would stand for having the same thing for supper every night, even if I wanted to. Fortunately this works out pretty well for me, since she usually just picks out what we have for supper. Although she does, almost every day, ask me what I want for supper. And every time she asks me, my response is the same: “I dunno.” It’s a wonder that she still asks me this question.

In any case, as I mentioned earlier, I’m not particularly picky. I get a kick out of watching food shows or reading food blogs and listening to people go on and on about the wonders of really fresh food and organic food and whatnot. I tend to feel just the opposite. I like my food to be heavily processed. I mean, fresh is great and all, and fresh does certainly taste better, but I find something perversely satisfying about, say a big block of Velveeta. It’s just so…uniform. I appreciate uniformity. See, fresh food often has all kinds of seeds and skins and membranes and such that need to be dealt with. There’s just so much work involved. Processed food just needs to be eaten. Straight to the point. I like it that way.

I suppose as long as I’m talking about food, I should mention some of my favorite things to eat. Lasagna is definitely near the top of my list. Pizza with lots of meat and veggies is another favorite. Chinese food of any sort is always something I devour ravenously when given the opportunity. And I can’t fail to mention Indian tacos, which are basically regular tacos only with fried bread dough instead of a tortilla. Delicious.

As you may have guessed by now, there was no real point to this particular essay. I just wanted to ramble on at length about food, since food is something I care deeply about. Perhaps next week I’ll actually write a real essay. Hey, if anybody has any ideas for a topic for me, let me know! After all, this blog shouldn’t be JUST about me, should it?

One final note: the liver cleanse? Yeah, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. I am tempted to try it again, because I didn’t follow the instructions EXACTLY, but as it stands, it didn’t really do anything. Kind of a waste of time and my taste buds.