Pokemon Trainers as People is a column in which Chalkey interviews well respected pokemon trainers in the community, but with one rule: they may talk about anything but the Pokemon VGC. Read about your favorite trainers as they talk about other aspects of their lives, and learn something new!
This week, we talked to Matthew Carter, known as Mattj in the community. Matthew qualified for the National Championships in 2009, placing top 16 at Nats and 17th at Worlds, and then qualifying and placing top 16 again in Nationals in 2010. Read on to hear Matthew talk to about one of the few things that can rival both the joy and the challenge of VGC: parenthood.
CH: Glad to have you here, Matt. To start, could you give a basic picture of your kids?
MC: My daughter Lily is five years old, and my son Link is just about eleven months.
CH: I am so happy his name is Link. So, getting down to business, what would you say has changed since you’ve become a father?
MC: In complete honesty, everything has changed. I guess you can’t understand it until you experience it, but your life goes from revolving around yourself and maybe your girlfriend (in my case my wife), to revolving around a five year old and eleven year old. Just making sure they’ve got everything they need and making sure they’re happy.
To be totally honest, I’m extremely lucky that I picked an extremely good wife who had a lot of experience with babysitting and taking care of children, which was a huge benefit for me because I didn’t know jack about taking care of kids. But thankfully she did. We’re fortunate enough that she can work from home and be around the kids the whole time. She takes care of the grunt work, but I guess as the designated breadwinner I have to work the hours and make sure the bills are paid.
CH: You mentioned you didn’t know jack about the process when you started. What have you learned since then?
MC: You know, it’s so much easier the second time around. When Lily was born, we didn’t know anything about their needs. We were constantly nervous any time they had a stuffy nose or a cough, and we were always second guessing the doctors and getting second opinions. It’s so much easier with Link, because we’ve been there and done that. It’s rough to begin with, but it gets so much easier.
CH: Could you give an example of basic parenting things you had to pick up along the way? Another way to look at it would be, say you were able to go back in time six years and tell yourself you were gonna be a dad, what do you think your past self would benefit from knowing?
MC: Man, I’ll tell you the one thing I wish I had known before: your kids don’t need a lot of stuff – they don’t need a lot of toys or presents or things like that – they need your time. I’ll get my daughter whatever she wants, and she’ll be happy for a minute or two, but man, if she’s sitting on my lap playing the game or we’re playing together, that means so much more to her than just getting her something. I didn’t know that at first. It was like “Let’s get the best car seat!” or “Let’s get the most expensive toy!” She doesn’t want those things. At least not at the kids they’re at right now.
CH: Have fun when they’re teenagers. So what about school – would that work the same way analogously? In lieu of toys, it’s less important to have the certain toy, but a parental figure to play with – would you say school, analogously, is not so much about the school and more about the involvement?
MC: Yes and no. In my case – and I have no problem talking about this – my daughter’s been diagnosed with autism, and she’s not even in kindergarten yet and we have her in this special preschool. And it’s probably because I never felt this before, but ever since we learned that my daughter has autism and we needed to get special help for her before she started school, it’s become really important to me to find a good school, no matter what’s the cost, no matter where it’s at, to help her with whatever her needs are.
We were extremely lucky where the town we live in already has a school set up. Where I came from about sixty miles away in New Haven, they had nothing. There were autistic kids who went to our school, but it was a small town and they didn’t receive much help, and honestly the school’s system wasn’t providing for the kids needs. But let me tell you – before my school started going there and after she started going there – it made such a huge, enormous difference in our ability to communicate with her and her ability to communicate with us. Right now, you couldn’t tell any difference between her and any other five year old girl her age, but before she started going there, it was pretty severe.
Man, we would be in a tough spot if we hadn’t gotten some kind of professional help with that. You know, that’s another important lesson I wish I would’ve known ahead of time – I kind of resisted that when the situation first came up. I thought “Everything will be fine. We don’t need to do this.” But as a parent, if your kid needs some kind of help, man, it doesn’t matter what kind of help that is, or if you’re going to be embarrassed about it, or if it’s gonna be difficult, you need to do it, and it’ll make a huge difference. I’ve seen families that haven’t gotten help for their kids, and I can tell the difference. I’m glad that we did what we did. That’s something I wish I knew right off the bat.
MC: That’s exactly what I was like at first. At least where I went to school, it was such a small school that they didn’t do that. They put them in a special ed class and put them aside. I have this one friend – I won’t say who it was – she was in special ed from second grade until she graduated. She didn’t have a severe learning disability – she had a hearing problem. Nobody even realized. It was just a terrible situation. But at least here, where we live, they take care of problems, integrate the kids, and it’s night and day from what I was used to. And I resisted all that because that wasn’t how I was raised.
CH: Well we definitely covered the challenges of parenting. What are the joys that make it all worth it?
MC: Too many to list. I was thinking about this, and the one thing I think really makes it worthwhile is watching the children succeed in whatever it is they’re doing. My son Link is just learning to stand up and walk. He’ll stand up, talk a step, and flap his hands and smile, because he knows he’s doing something new that he couldn’t do before. And I can’t tell you how awesome that is. And to see my daughter just excel just beyond what her peers are doing – it’s just awesome.
CH: I hear from the grapevine about Lily playing your games. Is that her own interest?
MC: That is Lily Carter. What happens is that she spends so much time at home, and she’ll fiddle with the Wii and play my 3DS.
CH: I was really excited when she beat the first dungeon of Ocarina of Time.
MC: Me too! And that’s what I’m talking about watching kids succeed. I didn’t help her with that – she just asked if she could play, and then I showed her how to get her sword and tell her to have fun. Next thing I know, I hear the dungeon music, and I thought “Yeah! You’re doing it right!”
CH: Man, I was twelve years old when I first beat that dungeon. You always hear kids learn so fast, but can you think of anything she learns really quickly?
MC: I have to change my pin code all the time. I use parental controls on the Wii, and I have to keep changing it she figures it out. Every time, I try to hide it so she doesn’t watch me, and she still figures it out. I never would’ve figured that stuff out at her age.
CH: So a lot of this interview will be read by younger pokemon trainers just immersing into the pokemon culture – do you have any strong opinions on what’s a good age to start having children, or when you’ll have more figured out?
MC: I’ll tell you – and I’ve been thinking about this too – it has nothing to do with age. The things that matter the most are personal maturity and how settled you are in your life. I have friends who got married at nearly the same time I did, right after we graduated high school. I think the thing that made the difference between families that are still together and the families that aren’t is basically how mature they were at the time, and how settled they were in the time. You better be settled down.
CH: Talk about your definitions there, since some people have different definitions of what it means to settle down or be mature.
MC: With maturity, what you need to understand is that when you have children it’s not about you anymore. You can still have your fun and do your thing within limits, but you have to be mature enough to say “This one comes first.” In terms of settling down, it’s where you live and where you work. Everybody changes jobs and everybody moves. But the families that I’ve seen have been the most successful pretty much have their job and where they want to live figured out. Moving has a huge impact on kids, and every kid knows that. Adults, if we move, it’s no big deal, but children are forming relationships with friends in their neighborhood, and develop attachment with the neighborhood. It becomes a strong emotion to have to leave – they can leave, but it’ll be traumatic. It’s really best to wait until you have all these things before you start having children.
And I will tell you this – I’m a fairly new dad. I’ve only been a dad for five years. But a lot of the stuff I feel about parenting comes from my parents, and also my wife’s parents, and also my church family. We all really try to share information and help each other out. None of this is from me?
CH: Have you ever had a moment where you were trying to figure out what to do, and you think “My dad was right about this”?
MC: All the time. I have these memories of being a kid and I remember being so mad at my parents for doing something, and I’ll be exactly the same situation doing exactly what they did. It’s the right thing to do, and you don’t realize it at that age. Man, I sound like I’m so old, and I’m only 28. [laughs]
CH: Thank you so much for doing this. Do you have any other comments to pokemon trainers that one day might be a mom or a dad?
MC: It’s worth all of the cost, and it’s worth all of the effort you’re going to put into it. 100%. 110%, even.