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Your child has a perfect score in irritating me

It seems that the transference of mothering instinct, in as much as that term refers to delight in the presence of other children, is limited in its scope. Last weekend at church I was delighted to pay with Harvey and another 9-month-old. While in the play area I looked out for another 18-month-old and made sure he got the toys he was routing for, but I quickly tired of the 2 and 4 year olds stepping over Harvey and treading too close to his fingers. They did not receive benevolent glances. And the 6 year old on the verge of a tantrum? I gave him the evil eye.

It got me thinking of a possible equation to explain this phenomenon. Clearly the delight I experience in your child decreases as the distance from his age and Harvey's increases. And I do like children generally, but less so when they're potentially dangerous to my little guy. So without collecting any data, I'd say that

My delight in your child = (some coefficient)the number of months distance between your child's age and my child's age - (some coefficient)the ability of your child to harm my child

But wait, upon re-read there are several problems with that equation.

The first is that it's not scalable. As my child gets older, I'm likely to continue to be delighted by children under his age, if only for the sake of nostalgia. Children at his age will continue to be cute and understandable in their motivations, but children older will continue to be irritating. So we'd need to change that part of the equation to be uni-directional, so only older children are annoying but not younger.

= (some coefficient)(your child's age in months - my child's age in months) - (some coefficient)the ability of your child to harm my child

The other problem with this equation is the possibility of collinearity between the age difference among our children (let's call it olderness) and your child's ability to harm my child (call it harminess). Obviously, as your child gets older his harming ability increases, so that olderness and harminess move in a collinear relationship. But it would be misleading to say that harminess is merely a factor of olderness, because harminess increases with factors unconnected to age, such as your child's inclination to harm my child (anger, sociopathic tendencies, bad parenting) or your child's enhanced ability to harm my child, such as whether he's wearing soccer cleats or carrying a big stick.

Also, is your child visibly ill? Germs add to harminess too. Indeed, we could come up for a seperate equation for harminess where

harminess = inclination to harm + weaponry + illness

So that our whole equation would read

Delight = coeff(olderness) - coeff(harminess)

and since we're subtracting all of harminess, the equation would break out into

My delight in your child = (some coefficient)(your child's age in months - my child's age in months) - (some coefficient)(your child's inclination to harm my child - weaponry - illness)

The more I think about this, the less it looks like a linear equation. I like your child more if he's closer in age to mine, but not so much that a perfect score in age would cancel out a charging sociopath with head cold. Indeed, if little snot-nose Samson is in the play pen with soccer cleats, then there's no measure of age empathy that will make me like him. Similarly if he's carrying H1N1. Which means perhaps that illness is not part of harminess and deserves its own coefficient.

And while we're at it, there are a myriad other variables that could improve the overall r-squared of the equation. Some ranking of the physical appearance of the child, vis-a-vis cuteness would certainly help. Also, am I in charge of your child at the time of measurement? Or are you, the momma, nearby? Do I like you, the momma? How much are you paying attention to the stick in your child's hand?

So there's still some flushing out to do with the math, and I think a trial observation might be in order to troubleshoot with some real data. I mean, an observation on other people and their germy nasty children.


And then there's the actual math. If we want delight to be a number between -1 and 1, so that 1 equals absolutely delighted and -1 equals 100% annoyed at your child, then what value would the other measurements need to be? Let's say we want to measure everything on a percentage scale so that inclination to harm can be measured 0 to 1, similarly with the dangerousness of weaponry, and the range of sickness from healthy to visibly carrying the plague. That makes data collection easy, but it'll take more time to run through all the mathematical possiblities. The coefficient of harminess would need to correct for the contingency of harminess values greater than 1. Similarly for olderness. More thinking necessary.

um...hmmmm...trying to come up with some sort of comment to this post but i think i'm speechless...I can't decide if i'm super impressed or a little but scared ;)

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