Sometimes I almost forget my baby is colorblind. Being colorblind does not mean that he sees the world in black and white, a common misconception, but his world looks much different than the world looks to most people.
When he was very small, we used to play a game called Cariboo. Cariboo has since become the hottest of speech pathology commodities, and the two games I’ve got in our basement will someday fund my kids’ college tuition. Riiiiiiiiight. Like speech-pathologists have this fancy, lucrative career where money is no object. Most years, I have to fully fund my stash of materials and supplies, so nobody in the speech therapy game is getting rich enough to pay what I want for my coveted Cariboo games. Anyway. . . Cariboo is an early education game targeting preacadmic skills such as letter naming, shape recognition and naming, color identification and the like. My kid always struggled with the green and red cards, so that was our first clue.
I remember observing a game of I Spy he played in speech therapy. I didn’t get to many of those preschool sessions because I work full time, so was I able to take him to the university clinic just once. I observed him with his therapist, Ms. Christie, whom he LOVED, and who is now my colleague, as it happens. Ms. Christie had cards hidden around the room, and E was supposed to employ fluency-enhancing speech behaviors in the construct of “I spy something that is red” or “I spy something that you can throw” for example. Everything he spied was purple or brown. Ms. Christie did not have cards with any brown or purple items on them.
We took him for a vision exam when he was in kindergarten, not strictly due to the suspected colorblindness, but we were picking up on soft signs around the house and then a school vision screening strongly suggested we should. Shortly thereafter, he was fitted with his first pair of glasses, and I cried real tears when he, for the first time, understood that trees had individual leaves and not a green blob on their branches. Did you know a bunch of grapes is comprised of literally a bunch of grapes? Of course you did, but he didn’t. He saw a blob.
Colorblindness isn’t terrifically handicapping, but he does experience periodic frustration, to be sure. We tell his teachers about it every fall–if a test has a “Measure the green line” or “What is the perimeter of the red trapezoid?” he’s at a distinct disadvantage, so it matters. Otherwise though, he’s learned what I call the Crayola 8. He has learned by association that classic red is red and classic purple is purple for example, but shades of anything in between are a wild guess. “Mom, where’s my grey shirt?” could return something that’s neon, high-vis yellow, aqua, forest green, or if we’re lucky, actually grey.
At his basketball game this morning, colorblindness was handicapping.
His team’s jerseys are black, and the opponents were wearing a crimson shade, burgundy, maroon, whatever you prefer. He approached me at halftime, which you JUST DON’T DO, his face completely serious. “Mom, I’m having a hard time today. I can’t tell whose jerseys are whose, they all look alike to me.” It was the most unexpected thing to hear, and it’s not like I forget he can’t see color accurately, but yeah, you kinda forget until it’s in your face. It hadn’t occurred to me that his coach would need to know, and there you have it, another lesson learned. He got back in the game, but didn’t get a ton of playing time in the second half. That’s OK though–he might not have anyway. The good guys and girls came home with the W in a game delayed thirty minutes by snow. Can’t play without a ref or official scorekeeper, you know.
Legally, my boy cannot be an electrician like his dad, he can’t be a commercial driver or a pilot, and I guess it’s some bizarre relief to know he’ll never be a called to defuse a bomb. And though it’s not profoundly life-altering, I was reminded that colorblindness is a little life-altering.
I see those widely shared videos of boys and men, for colorblindness occurs primarily in males, who are gifted with those colorblind codebreaker glasses, and feel like the world’s shittiest parent. Universally, when these guys see how the world truly appears in its glorious rainbow of color, they shed serious tears, like ugly cry tears. They’re shocked. They appear stunned to the point of disbelief. I wonder if they wear their glasses constantly. I wonder if they feel cheated when they’re removed. I wonder if they’ll ever develop contact lenses with this technology. I wonder how much they cost. . .