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November 28-December 5, 2006

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Ask Sydney

This advice column is penned by a Sonoma County resident and our new weekly sage. Go ahead! Ask her anything.

Dear Sydney, I recently went to the quilt exhibit at the De Young Museum. This town in Appalachia was extremely isolated and the women turned old jeans, dish towels, etc., into quilts. In the video interviews, one of the women said, "We were poor, but we were happy. People today have lots of things, but they're not happy." Sydney, is this true? Does having so many choices and so many leisure items make us less happy? Were people really happier when they were poor? I have an iPod and a PS2, but I'm still miserable.--Rich with Stuff

Dear Stuff: Somehow, the idea of living in poverty in the Appalachian Mountains, popping out babies whom I may or may not be able to feed, while I make quilts out of old dish towels does not bespeak of happiness to me. Happiness is a state of mind, and if your state of mind tells you that you will be happy if you buy that new couch, you very well might be. Then again, making something beautiful, like a quilt, can make you feel happy. But to say that people are happier if they are poor is a load of horseshit. Give me money any day, because you want to know true misery? Then give everything up and move into a box in a garbage dump with your kids, and give them glue to sniff because you don't have any food. Try this for a while and then tell me you'd be happier poor. May I suggest that you cradle your iPod and your PS2 to your chest, and give thanks that you are fortunate enough to be able to spend large amounts of money on asinine items that exist purely for the sake of your own personal enjoyment, and not for any other reason.

Dear Sydney, my almost six-year-old son was recently given the Star Wars Legos computer game. He had never played anything like it before, so my husband and I thought we'd let him try, thinking he'd get frustrated and that would be the end of it. But in no time he had it figured out, and now he's begging to play all the time. He seems addicted. I am sad to say that I have never seen him so excited about anything he's ever done. And this is a kid who laughs hysterically when his one-year-old brother dances, who loves to ride his bike, who plays with many friends and relatives. In other words, he's not lacking in quality experiences. Yet the first thing out of his mouth this morning upon waking up was "Mom! I made it to the new city last night!" He was so elated. When he asked if he could play some more (this is at 6:30am, mind you), and I said no, his face turned sinister and he became enraged. It just doesn't seem right for a child this age to become so involved in a computer game. What do you recommend? --Confused Mom

Dear CM: It sounds as if your son is being given enough time to explore life in a supportive and creative environment and that a little Lego computer game is not going to destroy his chances at becoming a reasonably healthy adult. Because computer games, video games and movies can have a devastating effect on the calm of your family life, you have to decide: either you get rid of the computer game and never allow him to play it, or you instate strict rules about playing time. He has a choice: he can either spend his free time playing his game or watching a movie, but it has to be one or the other. Second, purchase a timer. Give him an allotment of time that he can use up as he wants, and the timer will make it very clear for how long he can play. Give him maybe 45 minutes, and if he wants to get worked up about it, then he loses his privileges for the day.

Is this the best way for him to spend his time? Maybe it's not your ideal, but many children, especially boys of his generation, are passionate about video games. If you do decide to ban the games from your house, do it soon. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be, and the older he gets, the more he will resent you for it. There is social stigma attached to letting your kids game, not to mention a plethora of difficult, often moral decisions that must be made in regards to what games are appropriate for them to play and how much time it's OK to play for. On the other hand, some children love to game more then they love doing anything else, and what does it mean when you say no to a passion like that? How will it metamorphose?

Dear Sydney: I am hoping that you can settle a dispute between me and my room mate. It's causing some serious friction. It came out during a drunken dinner party conversation that he seems to think it's no big deal to piss in the shower. I had no idea that he felt this way, and had always assumed that he, like me, peed in the damn toilet. The other people in the conversation seemed to feel mixed about this issue; some thought it was no big deal to piss in the shower, and others, like me, thought it was totally disgusting. My roommate refuses to give up his habit, claiming that he, and I quote, "really enjoys it." He acts like I'm being an uptight asshole for even worrying about it. I'm totally grossed out. Is there anyway to settle this besides moving out? Who is right?--Pissed

Dear Pissed: There is no handbook for urination etiquette, at least not one that I've ever seen, which means that whether or not it's OK to piss in the shower is totally subjective. Here's the thing: urine is actually pretty clean; in fact, you can drink it. Remember this, it could save your life: if you are ever lost in the desert, you can drink your own piss exactly two times, after that it won't do you any good. But still, it's just not cool to pee in the shower if you have roomies, even if you enjoy it. It's not respectful. The only reason it would be OK would be if everyone living in the house agreed upon it beforehand. If your roommate thinks you're uptight, too bad; maybe you are, but that doesn't make it OK to do something to offend you. That's just poor roommate etiquette. Unless your roommate wants to take charge of cleaning and scrubbing the bathtub regularly, and washing the shower curtain, he better wait until he gets his own place. Wash your dishes, don't piss in the shower. It's standard.

No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Ask Sydney.