Mr. Wilson on “Silicon Valley”

"This is not very realistic."

"No?"

"Yeah, we’re pretty sure there are no theoretical advances possible in generalized compression."

In Which I Look at an Icon

It is very cold in our house, though not so cold as Not In Our House (where temperatures have soared into the double digits!), and Theodora and I have cocooned ourselves in her bedroom, which is approximately 8’ by 10’ and thus capable of being thoroughly heated by our landlady’s mother’s crappy space heater when the door is closed.

Theodora does not want to be here. She wants to go out and have adventures, or possibly to gnaw on the furniture with her budding molars. (She definitely does not want to take the baby Tylenol that will make her molars hurt less, because she has surprisingly high suffering theory for a one-year-old.)

She is driving me, quietly, nuts. By now I know what the problem is, at least. I had suspected an ear infection, as I always do when she’s inexplicably fussy, because I had had a dozen ear infections by her age, and as is always the case she does not have an ear infection at all but is perfectly explicably fussy because she has small, sharp, calcified whitish structures forcing their way up through the sore tissue of her gums. This hurts.

Theodora is grumpy. Her jaw hurts so she doesn’t want to eat anything that needs chewing, thank you very much, but she is a big girl so she doesn’t want Mommy to spoon things into her mouth – but then, she isn’t really all that big of a girl after all, so she can’t quite manage the spoon herself. Theodora has been grumpy for several days, and my house is cold, and I am rather grumpy myself.

Pinned to the wall in Theodora’s room is a small icon, a copy of the Hawaiian Myrrh-streaming Iveron Icon of the Theotokos. I put it up on a whim perhaps nine months ago, because it seemed like we should have something on the wall in there, and my eyes mostly skate over it. This morning I was looking at it with, I’ll admit, a hint of resentment.

The icon makes Him look like a tiny adult, robed and haloed, but He is held in one of His mother’s arms, perhaps against her hip, and because of that (and because, after all, I have a one-year-old) I think He looks like a toddler. He is holding one hand out to her, and she is reaching for His hand, and I imagine that he has something – a pebble, maybe – in his hand and she is about to smile at Him with big eyes and say, “Oh, thank you, Yeshua! What a lovely pebble!” the way that mothers do when they’re encouraging their children to hand them that fascinating little choking hazard.

So I looked at this icon and thought, Well, it’s all very nice for you, you’re the Mother of God, but my baby is grumpy and I am grumpy and there you are, just gazing at Him with adoration in your face like He is a pure and undeserved blessing who sleeps through the night and doesn’t get molars and would let you, I don’t know, talk to the nice HVAC repairmen without screeching for attention (if they had HVAC systems in Judea, which I think they did not).

But of course He got molars, and of course it hurt, and of course He cried, because He was a baby and that’s what babies do. He probably made big messes, too, and threw food on the floor like it was a joke He’d only just discovered, and woke His mother up in the night when He had a bad dream.

And yet here she is in this icon, looking at Him like he is pure and undeserved blessing, and He is looking back at her with love and awe. It’s an expression I recognize – a little more regal, perhaps, a little wiser because the icon is trying to show Him as God too and not just a baby – but it’s an expression that Theodora turns on me sometimes. And in His mother’s face, I see what I always know, even when I’m grumpy, which is that my daughter, too, is a pure and utterly undeserved blessing.

I am tempted to end with something flippant, about how she hit me in the knee with my phone because she had been playing with it but then the screen went to sleep and she wanted me to turn it back on (she did), or about how she is tired but reluctant to take a nap because of her teeth (she is), because I am a degenerate, deracinated modern who finds any experience of wonder not leavened with ironic distance from my own wonder to be a little, well, sappy. Not the sort of thing one discusses in polite company.

This may be at least a part of why I am not a Christian. But I want to be, and so I will end on that: I looked at an icon and I had a moment of wonder, and I’m still a little bit grumpy but I’m trying to hold onto the moment.

Holiday Gift Guide

Thanksgiving is over and there are six more nights of Chanukah, so this is the perfect time for my Holiday Gift Guide. I’m not sure I’m allowed to call it that, actually, because there are only two things I strongly feel you should buy, but I do. 

For Anyone Who Cooks

An immersion blender. The only truly irreplaceable function is pureeing hot liquids in their cooking vessels (saving you from that pureeing-batches-in-the-blender thing that I’ve heard about but never done because I have an immersion blender), but I’ve used mine to make smoothies, pesto, vinaigrettes, and in place of a food processor whenever I don’t feel like washing all the parts of the Cuisinart. (Hint: always.)

For the Orthodox Christian (or, I suppose, the Vegetarian or Vegan)

Maddhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook. A gajillion delicious recipes that don’t pretend to have meat in them. (Tofu-dogs. What in the world.) I’ve probably cooked about 5% of the recipes in this book because the ones I made are so good I keep going back to them. There are many, many things besides beans, but the bean section comes first, so I end up cooking a lot of beans during fasts. And not during fasts, honestly. Indispensable.

“The rough outline is easy enough to imagine. The drones buzz in a ceaseless robotic picket around the Capitol, demanding freedom from their death-bondage to the whims of the American political class, at which point a bipartisan committee consisting of John McCain, Charles Schumer, and Ted Cruz demands that the President go all Reagan-meets-the-Air-Traffic-Controllers on their metal asses and deny them the right to organize. The President gets on the TV to tell America that the drones’ work stoppage threatens the delicate economic recovery and calls them irresponsible ideologues whose insistence that the proper application of weakly godlike artificial intelligence is to build Ringworlds and transwarp conduits threatens to cause base closures in a number of vital Democratic districts, putting thousands of people out of work. The New York Times quotes Arne Duncan and Rahm Emmanuel as saying that, while there may once have been a time in which sentient beings had the moral right to oppose their own enslavement, times have changed, and will no one Think of Chicago’s Schoolchildren, Who Are the Future? A liberal will recall that Rand Paul once said something about the gold standard, and Oh, How We Will Laugh.”
Taking a break from the very hard work off being a baby.

Taking a break from the very hard work off being a baby.

"What’s that you say? Someone was up all night screaming? What a terrible baby that just be! I’ll definitely let you know if I see anyone like that, Mom."

"What’s that you say? Someone was up all night screaming? What a terrible baby that just be! I’ll definitely let you know if I see anyone like that, Mom."

Sondheim’s Paradox

When a man thinks he is meant to be with a woman because of their shared love of musicals, but can’t tell her, because she will think he is gay.

Happening when I get home.

Happening when I get home.

On the Rocafort family’s kitchen shelf in Ball Ground, Ga., next to the peanut butter and chicken broth, sits a wire basket brimming with bottles of the children’s medications, prescribed by Dr. Anderson: Adderall for Alexis, 12; and Ethan, 9; Risperdal (an antipsychotic for mood stabilization) for Quintn and Perry, both 11; and Clonidine (a sleep aid to counteract the other medications) for all four, taken nightly.

Quintn began taking Adderall for A.D.H.D. about five years ago, when his disruptive school behavior led to calls home and in-school suspensions. He immediately settled down and became a more earnest, attentive student — a little bit more like Perry, who also took Adderall for his A.D.H.D.

When puberty’s chemical maelstrom began at about 10, though, Quintn got into fights at school because, he said, other children were insulting his mother. The problem was, they were not; Quintn was seeing people and hearing voices that were not there, a rare but recognized side effect of Adderall. After Quintn admitted to being suicidal, Dr. Anderson prescribed a week in a local psychiatric hospital, and a switch to Risperdal.

While telling this story, the Rocaforts called Quintn into the kitchen and asked him to describe why he had been given Adderall.

“To help me focus on my school work, my homework, listening to Mom and Dad, and not doing what I used to do to my teachers, to make them mad,” he said. He described the week in the hospital and the effects of Risperdal: “If I don’t take my medicine I’d be having attitudes. I’d be disrespecting my parents. I wouldn’t be like this.”

Despite Quintn’s experience with Adderall, the Rocaforts decided to use it with their 12-year-old daughter, Alexis, and 9-year-old son, Ethan. These children don’t have A.D.H.D., their parents said. The Adderall is merely to help their grades, and because Alexis was, in her father’s words, “a little blah.”