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. This happened last weekend.
Last Shabbat, my older son, Miles, who is 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.
At this point, I am slightly ashamed to admit that I moved from not entirely kind into 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! Is the crown decoration on one piece bigger or smaller or what!?”
I was done. “Go ask your father,” I spit out impatiently. He sulked away to find my husband, clutching a red checker in one sweaty little hand and a black one in the other.
Have you figured it out? Like 8% of the male population, my son is red-green colorblind (.3% of females are as well). 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 colorblind- and a tailor, mind you…No wonder we never struck it rich in America: who ever heard of a successful colorblind tailor!? (Coincidentally but of no genetic consequence for Miles, my husband’s father and grandmother are also colorblind!)
Dark reds and maroons look grey to Miles, and certain greens also look greyish. 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.
Lesson #1: Don’t be hard on people without truly understanding where they are coming from. Take the time to talk to someone small when they tell you that you don’t understand them. 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 colorblind very unique, and he hopes his little brother Fred is not colorblind, since said little brother is left-handed and Miles thinks that’s unique enough for a small brother named Fred who is constantly taking his favorite LEGOs and following him around trying to kiss him. We have not yet told Miles that there are certain professions he cannot pursue, but we did tell him that Mister Rogers was colorblind. Besides Mister Rogers famously remarking that tomato soup and pea soup look the same to him, he seems to have fared pretty well and we can’t wait to show Miles some episodes of his show.
When I explained some rudimentary genetics of colorblindness to Miles, he was particularly fascinated by the concept of percentages. He asked me the following day, “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 lost a moment with him. But in that loss, I gained a 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.
Do you know what I answered Miles when he asked if they know about him?
“Yes, Miles. They know about you. And they know to count you.” And I want to believe that that is true.