[The image above is a plate in the Ishihara color test, which assesses red-green color deficiencies.]
Our job as parents is to guide our children. To nourish their minds and their souls. To teach them so many things in so few years. But if you open your eyes and ears to your child, they will teach you as well.
I remember well the Shabbat in 2011 when my older son, Miles, then a few months shy of 6, took out a set of checkers that he had never played with before. Holding two pieces up, he asked me how to tell which is which. I was bewildered and I replied not entirely kindly, “What do you mean? Put the red ones on one side and the black ones on the other.”
Now he was bewildered. “No, Mama, how do you tell which is which?” he asked again.
I am slightly ashamed to admit that, at this point, I was mildly annoyed; I had a friend over and we were trying to have a conversation – couldn’t he see that!?
“These are red and those are black, put them on either side of the board!” I fired back at him.
Now he looked downright distraught: “You don’t understand!! They both have crowns: how do you tell the difference?”
I was done. “Go ask your father,” I spit out impatiently. He sulked away, clutching a red checker in one sweaty little hand and a black one in the other.
About five minutes later – and plenty of juicy details into what my friend and I were discussing – my ex shouted from the other room, “HE’S COLOR BLIND!!!”
Like 8% of the male population and .3% of the female population, my son is red-green color blind. He has mutations of the OPN1MW and OPN1LW genes, and I gave him this anomaly through my X chromosome. I got it from my mother who got it from her father who was also color blind–and a tailor, mind you…no wonder we never struck it rich in America: who ever heard of a successful color blind tailor!? (Coincidentally, but of no genetic consequence for Miles, my ex-husband’s father and grandmother are also color blind!)
Dark reds and maroons look grey to Miles, and certain greens also look grayish. Red berries on green bushes are not seen by him as red, and colors that contain a lot of red and green, such as army green and some purples, get muddy for him. He also has a lot of trouble with pastels, indicating that he may have a more ‘significant’ color impairment than just red-green color blindness.
Here is what I have learned as the mom of a color blind child.
Lesson #1: Don’t be hard on people without truly understanding where they are coming from. When your small humans tell you that you don’t understand them, take the time to talk and listen. If you don’t take the time to forge this kind of connection, you are implying–perhaps inadvertently–that if someone asks for something in sincerity and earnestness, they will not get it. And that’s not what we want to teach our children, or anyone for that matter.
Miles finds his anomaly of being color blind very unique. When he started to understand his color blindness, he said he was glad that his little brother Fred is not color blind, since said little brother is left-handed and Miles thought that was enough of a challenge for a small brother named Fred who was constantly taking his favorite LEGOs and following him around trying to kiss him all of the time.
We haven’t yet told Miles that there are certain professions he might not be able to pursue because of his color blindness, but have told him that Mister Rogers was color blind, and seems to have fared pretty well.
When I explained some rudimentary genetics of color blindness to 6 year old Miles, he was particularly fascinated by the concept of percentages. He asked me, “Mama, do they know about me?”
“What do you mean, Miles?”
“Do they know about me, Mama? Do they know to count me?”
My eyes welled up with tears.
Do they know about me? Do they know to count me? Dear God in heaven, this child came out of my body. I made this small boy with my blue eyes with the golden flecks in the middle full of wonder and love and tantrums and fear and he is my mirror; he shows me when I am wrong and he rights me when I falter. This is my son; my beloved first-born son, and I love him deeply. And when I sent him away impatiently to “go ask your father,” I had lost a moment with him. But in that loss, I gained another lesson.
Lesson #2: Never be too proud to learn from your child. We get to complete the development which began in our teens and 20s when we open our eyes and ears to our children.
When Miles asked if they know about him, I responded, “Yes, Miles. They know about you. And they know to count you.” And I want to believe that that is true.
Miles has adjusted very well to his life without certain colors and seems to get a little thrill about it when telling people about it. I make sure not to point it out unless it’s relevant or necessary, and when we play certain board games I remember to help him make distinctions between colors I know are hard for him. It’s a balance between celebrating his specialness and not wanting to make him feel “too” different, since at 12, it’s so important to fit in.
And indeed, what is most important for me is how much my worldview shifts every time there is something new to learn about my boys, and how much I have the capacity to grow with them. To see what seems unseeable, to start to know what we don’t yet know, and to make sure that we count.