Why do Kids care about Favourite Colours?

March 27, 2014

During a school visit this week, an eleven-year old girl asked, “What is your favourite colour?” I countered with a question of my own.

“Why do you care about favourite colours?”

I wasn’t remotely mocking her. I wanted to know.

Swinging her ponytail confidently, she answered, “Because when I know what colours people like, it gives me insight into their personalities.”

Hmm. I don’t have a favourite colour. No doubt that made her suspect I’m lacking in personality altogether. But I think she was right; colours are important.

When I was a kid, I saw the film, Mask, in which a teenager, with a horrible, disfiguring disease, goes to a summer camp where he meets a girl who has been blind since birth. Although she can picture most things in her mind, she can’t imagine colours. She lived her entire life in blackness. So he put ice into her hands to explain blue and he brought her hand close to a flame to explain red and then dropped cotton wool into her palms to describe white. She seemed to get it.

I didn’t enjoy the film because I dislike any film featuring blindness. When I was about six or seven, I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books and felt traumatized when Laura’s sister, Mary, caught scarlet fever and went blind. Around the same time, I got into a fight with a boy over a pen. I have no idea why. Bickering loudly, we pulled it back and forth between us with increasing force and speed. Eventually, he let go unexpectedly, and I ended up stabbing myself in my own eye. (There’s the beginning of a pattern there that I’m going to ignore).

I don’t remember travelling to the hospital but I do remember a nurse’s voice,

Is she going to lose the eye?”

 I didn’t hear the answer. The question, on top of Mary’s dreadful bad luck, was enough to trigger a lengthy, hard-core fear of going blind. I was crazy about reading and the thought of having to learn Braille and read with my fingers filled me with the most sickening dread.

Maintaining a fear over many years is pretty hard work. I shared a bedroom with my twin sister. Every night I insisted that the light in the corridor stay on with our door open. So, if I woke in the middle of the night, I would immediately see the light and know that, well, I could see. Occasionally my sister got fed-up with having to sleep with the light streaming in and she’d switch it off. I’d switch it on again and we would do that sometimes for an hour or more. It never worried me. I felt pretty bad for her and I would look at her in a sorrowful but resigned way. I knew for certain that my fear would always defeat her wish to sleep in darkness. I would sit on the top stair of the landing with my arms folded, waiting for her to give up. She always did. Then I would have to wait for my parents to go to bed. They always turned off the hallway light. I’d have to wait for them to fall asleep before creeping out and switching it back on. It was kind of like having a job, a night-shift, but without getting paid. I rarely thought about my fear during the day. I kind of just accepted it like the way a kid with ginger hair comes to terms with it. When I was around eleven, my fear gradually faded away. But I wish I had told my parents about it so they could have taken me for an eye examination and I could have been reassured by a certified medical professional that my eyes were perfectly healthy. I mean an ordinary GP, not a psychiatrist! 

If you are labouring under a fear that feels like a job, you should think about mentioning it to an adult, no matter how crazy or weird your fear sounds. It could save you from many hours of unpaid labour.

A few days ago, I met a woman on Portmarnock beach with a Labrador puppy wearing a “Guide-Dog in Training” neon jacket. He was beautiful.  “This is the fourth one I’ve trained,” said the woman. “I keep them for a year and then they go off to the school.”

I looked at the way the puppy watched her adoringly.

“It must be hard to let them go,” I said.

She shook her head. “I’m just getting them ready for their real owners. What is hard is when they don’t pass the tests at the school. Not all of them have the right temperament. But I think this little chap will make it.”

I looked down at his pale gold-yellow fur and his shining eyes. I think that I might have a favourite colour after all, pale golden yellow, the colour of light. 

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