One never knows what is going to happen at the dinner table in my house, nor how that information might be used in future conversations. We have discussions that range from the sublime to the absurd, and everything in between. And the conversations tend to wander from one end of that spectrum to the other—often multiple times over the course of the same meal.

On Friday night, the boys became engaged in a conversation that was both entertaining and thought provoking. Dinner was going along smoothly until one of them dropped some food on the floor and started pondering the edibility of the morsel in question.

The next thing I knew, the older brother had pulled out his napkin, and was working through a formula to determine whether or not one should remove food from the floor and eat it. His napkin was the paper on which he was composing his formula—writing out the variables involved in making the necessary “calculations.”

The younger boy watched critically as his brother developed this idea, throwing in some of the factors he believed to be important. C had based his calculations on an “average bedroom floor,” using food on a plate and (basically) food in the cats’ litter box as his extreme conditions.

“Wait! Let me show you mine!” W said, grabbing the pen from C. The wheels in his head sped up, formulating, calculating. He developed a complicated equation in which one variable was “harmful life forms per square centimeter,” and another was “time in contact.” There were others, as well as a series of unknowns over other unknowns. They bantered back and forth as they considered whether they had covered all of the important elements.

Ultimately, the bite that fell on the floor made its way to the trash. Through it all, the boys were laughing and carrying on about various funny (i.e. “disgusting”) things that could happen to the food to affect edibility.

In my mind, I had to consider how this incident might have been different if I had been eating with two girls. The girls would have immediately picked up the food, thrown it out, and cleaned up the floor.

But in the interest of developing the boys’ talents at creating new formulas, I have some ideas. On Monday morning, I was texting my daughter—who spent the weekend with her father. I told her I missed her. She said she missed me more. “Tough to know,” I texted. “We can measure later.”

Perhaps the boys could write a formula for that.

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