Unearthing a More Colorful Brain.

“1 is red – right, mom?”

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This matter-of-fact question Noah asked Monday morning while doing his math (in my dirty dressing room floor as I hung up clothes) turned his school day on end. What followed was a fascinating day of me interrogating him while becoming more and more intrigued with his brain as he very factually and without hesitation answered all of my inquiries.

“Do all numbers have a color?”

“Yes!”

“0?”

“Black.”

“2?”

“Yellow. 5 is yellow too.”

“3?”

“Blue.”

“4?”

“Orange. And 6, 7, and 8 are purple, 9 is pink. 10 is obviously red and black.”

Now it made so much sense why, after deciding to use colored pencils for math a couple weeks ago, he had started to want to do more math each day.

“What about letters? Do they have colors?”

“Obviously. A is red. B is blue and pink. C is yellow and D is brown. E is orange and F is blue and purple.”

“Days of the week? Do they have colors?”

“Yup. Yesterday was a yellow day and the day before that was a red day. Wednesday is probably a brown day. Brown or beige.”

“So what about Saturdays?”

“What did I just say that they were?? Red, Mom!!”

I had just discovered that my six-year-old had grapheme-color synesthesia. AND I WAS TOTALLY GEEKING OUT.

Grapheme-color synesthesia: When an individual’s perception of numerals and letters is associated with the experience of colors. Like all forms of synesthesia, Grapheme-color synesthesia is involuntary, consistent, and memorable.

I’d heard about synesthesia in all its forms in my psych classes in college (a fascination that I pursued in my electives), and had more recently listened to a podcast about a woman with Mirror-Touch Synesthesia – a very real and terrifying condition that caused her to physically feel everything that she saw anyone else physically experience. Hug, punch, shivers, itches – whatever.

Synesthesia is a phenomenon where two or more senses are triggered by each other in an involuntary way. Color Synesthesia is the most common, and approximately 1% of the population experiences it. A theory is that it is associated from first memories of learning the letters – kids latch onto the colors of their refrigerator magnets, or the letters in their alphabet book. But this was disproven when they discovered synesthetes who couldn’t possibly have had those early life associations. I can’t help but wonder if there is still some connection there, and if more kids have synesthesia now that they learn their letters with blazingly colorful learning apps.

There are many more bizarre synesthesias, such as where you experience tastes when certain words or sounds are spoken, where smells have a color, when time has a spatial place around you, and where letters and other things are personified as little personalities. Often, people who are synesthetes will experience more than one type, so we had other fun conversations yesterday as well, such as,

“What color is the smell of chicken fingers?”

“What?? Mom! That’s disgusting!!”

“Where is Wednesday? Is it to the left or right of you?”

“I have NO idea.”

I found an online test for synesthetes and started Noah on it. It asks you to pick a color from the whole spectrum for each letter and number, randomized and multiple times, to see if you’re consistent with your answers. It was a bit long for a six-year-old’s attention span, however, so we haven’t finished it yet. But it was delightful to listen to his dialogue as he tried to pinpoint the colors.

“No…it’s a little lighter than that…more of a lavender. Mom, how do I get this to be lighter?”

“It’s more of a green-yellow. No, not that green. Not that one either.”

“9 is definitely pink. Not green. Help me get off the green!”

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What fascinated me most was his complete consistency. When he got to B on the test, he asked “B is blue and pink. How do I do that on here? Should I just pick one or the other?”

All day long I randomly asked him the color of numbers and letters and he’d shoot back, with complete accuracy, what he’d told me before. I kept a running note in my phone because there was no way I could possibly remember his answers from one ask to the next.

While he was taking the test, Ali walked in and asked what he was doing. I explained to her that Noah saw letters and numbers in color.

“Oh! I do too. 1 is blue, 2 is lime green – “

“WRONG!” Noah didn’t even look up from his test to inform his sister that she was categorically incorrect about the properties of numbers.

Ali wasn’t so convinced that letters had a color, but she did think days of the week had color.

She started going through her list, with very specific colors, like “Tuesday is lime green and light yellow mixed together” and when she got to Friday,

“…and Friday is sunshine yellow…”

Noah piped up, appalled, “What?!? That’s Sunday!! You’re so weird.”

I had never had a more surreal conversation with my children, and I was loving every minute of it. I had turned into psychologist mom and there was no going back.

I found this picture online and showed it to him.

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“What is in this picture?”

“Fives and twos.”

“How many twos are there?”

Without taking even a second to count, he said “there are six twos,” then pointed them all out. Because apparently, his brain comprehends them much bolder than my brain does.

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(I did ask him if he saw them in color or in black and he looked at me like I was crazy. “They’re black, Mom!!”)

The next morning, I had the kids separately make their color charts.

This is Ali’s:

Ali Synesthesia Chart

I checked it against my note, and she Ali stayed consistent with her choices, other than flip-flopping on 5 and 8 being light blue / dark blue.

And this is Noah’s. The really bold characters are due to the fact that they are supposed to be purple, and he wasn’t happy that they looked a little pink on first pass.

Noah Synesthesia Chart copy

The only deviation he made from the day before was that he decided that 7 was actually green, not purple. Additionally, he informed me that uppercase e’s are yellow, but lowercase are orange – and he preferred lowercase. I asked if all uppercase and lowercase letters were different, but he said only e and f – uppercase f is blue and purple (he got mad at himself for forgetting to add blue to it, although he did draw the dual-colored B), but lowercase is beige.

One interesting fact that I found while researching: although each synesthete has their own color-mapping, the majority make A red and O white or black. Noah has consistently told me that A is red and O is blue or black.

I have no idea what this brain phenomenon really effects, other than my children’s minds being delightfully more colorful than my own, but I’m excited to figure out how to integrate it into their education.

Noah Colors

As is, apparently, Noah.

So it might be worth the question – offhandedly, out of nowhere, to your kids:

“Hey – what color is the number 5?”

Report your findings immediately.

Note: an update can be found here.

Not-Crazy-Renee and the Neighborhood Package Thief.

Not-Crazy-Renee (my neighbor, who I introduced to you Monday) has had an intense holiday season.

For one, she’s post-partum.

No one should have to be post-partum over the holidays – I should know, as Noah was born on December 19.

(Happy birthday, son. You might get a sweet and touching birthday blog post…at some point.)

I remember distinctly the agony I endured when I came home from the hospital on December 23, suffering greatly from the side effects of having been on pain medication and Zofran for four days. GREATLY. I remember crying those nonsensical post-partum tears and attempting to sit up in a dignified manner so as to have our family over for dinner the very next day.

Holiday Post-Partumness is not for wusses.

Good thing women aren’t wusses.

So. Back to Not-Crazy-Renee. She’s not quite as freshly post-partum as I was that fateful year of 2010, but this is no contest. She’s still very post-partum, and with two additional small children at home to boot. Good thing she’s no wuss.

But. A few weeks ago on a Wednesday, Renee had a package that showed it was delivered early in the morning, and a couple of hours later when she went to retrieve it, it wasn’t there.

This was bad news. No good at all. Our neighborhood had recently suffered from its first set of robberies in remembered history, and people were on edge – Not-Crazy-Renee was no exception.

She waited three days before freaking out, hoping she would find it or it would turn up somehow, but it did not.

For some reason, the next Sunday morning was her snapping point.

She texted me while I was on the way to church and informed me that we most definitely had a Neighborhood Package Thief and that I better keep an eye on my deliveries. Of course I had a large package coming that very day (who does Amazon pay off at the USPS to have Sunday delivery? It’s a mystery), and I knew I wouldn’t be home for hours.

I texted my across-the-street neighbor to spread the news of the package thief and ask her to keep an eye out for my incoming box.

Then I tried to talk reason into Not-Crazy-Renee. Because, to be honest, although I was taking the cautious road with my own stuff, I didn’t really believe there was a thief.

“Surely it was just delivered to the wrong address and the neighbor that got it hasn’t brought it to you yet. This happens all the time in our neighborhood!”

But no. She was convinced. It was definitely a criminal element at work to destroy her Christmas Cheer.

My other neighbor texted me back likewise, saying she had just gotten a package belonging to someone else and had taken a couple days getting it to them.

I tried again to offer assurances.

“See? It just happened this week!! The post office is busy. They’re not paying attention. I’m sure your package is out there. It will come around.”

This did not perk her up one bit.

In fact, her texts to me throughout the day became more filled with rage and dismay that some no-good varmint would just flat-out SWIPE her kid’s bike helmet and her infant child’s much-needed batch of pacifiers.

She hoped they were highly disappointed with their haul.

She began investigating installing video surveillance system, and most likely thoroughly considered the possibility of installing booby traps that Indiana Jones himself couldn’t outwit.

A few days later, I had my Eye Duct Cauterization scheduled, and Renee had kindly agreed to keep my kids (or let them entertain her kids – whatev.)

When I arrived to dump my kids upon her, I noticed a sign taped to the basement door. Then, on the front door, a matching sign.

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I giggled.

Something about the commanding tone of the sign coupled with the cheery holiday border said “I’m a delightful individual!! And I will RIP YOUR FREAKING HEAD OFF if you take my kid’s Christmas crap.”

It had the aroma of slightly hysterical neurosis.

And I adored it.

That is, until Ali read it. And gasped. And asked for all the details about this neighborhood package thief. This new knowledge, along with her already collected understanding of the neighborhood robberies, made for a very jumpy almost-nine-year-old, and also a contagious one.

For the next week and a half, every time Ali or Noah heard the UPS man, they ran out onto the porch, grabbed the package, looked over their shoulder while their tiny hearts beat out of their tiny chests, ran back inside, remembered to lock the door for the first times in their lives, and yelled to me, “I beat the package thief! I got your box before he did!!”

Noah took it a bit further and wouldn’t go in the yard alone even for five seconds while I was walking toward the door to join him, all while he would state flatly, “I’ll just stay inside. There’s a package thief out there somewhere.”

After enduring ten days of my children’s constant adrenaline-charged evasion of The Bad Guy, I teased Not-Crazy-Renee about it.

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I was really just meaning to shame her for sport and pleasure, not shame her into taking her signs down.

But take her signs down she did.

However, my shaming proved me the best friend she’d ever had.

Because the VERY NEXT MORNING, which happened to be Day 15 of The Package Thief Saga, Not-Crazy-Renee heard a knock on her door.

She opened it to find a young Mom and her kids, standing on her doorstep, with an Amazon box in hand, looking rather bashful.

She lived one block up, you see – the same house number but a different street, and she, like the rest of us, had been getting voluminous stacks of Amazon boxes delivered to her doorstep, and she hadn’t been exactly inspected each one before she threw it in her “To-Wrap” pile, so when she got around to wrapping her presents and opened the box, she was quite confused as she didn’t remember ordering a bike helmet and pacifiers.

She checked the label and realized it wasn’t her package.

“I have no idea how many days I’ve had it – probably several,” she apologized.

Fifteen days, but who’s counting.

Before the recalcitrant neighbor left, she and Renee had realized they had kids the same age and absolutely must schedule a playdate soon. Extrovert-Not-Crazy-Renee was thrilled at the prospect of a new friend.

It was lovely. Just lovely. A serendipitous meeting indeed.

But just think. If that poor young, harried mother had walked up to the door, already weighed down with the guilt of the package she’d held so long, and had seen this slightly-psychotic sign on the door,

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Do you think they’d have a playdate scheduled?

No, no they would not.

Just call me The Neighborhood Fixer.

Epilogue: My children, along with all of us, are thrilled and relieved with the news that The Package Thief never actually existed. But old habits are hard to break – they’re still sprinting outside to grab any and all boxes before a Criminal Element beats them to it.

Case Closed: The Mystery of Fred.

I am not the kind of person that can leave a mystery unsolved.

Uncle Joe had to be found.

Dr. Pepper TEN needed to be explained.

It was an absolute must that I tracked down my twin.

When someone hacked my PayPal account, it wasn’t good enough to just fix it. I needed to find the people who did it. And report them to my Sheriff’s department, their Sheriff’s Department, and the FBI.

Even recently, there was a naked man on the loose in Birmingham…taking selfies at a busy intersection…with a camera on a tripod.

And what did I do? I had to figure out who he was.

And what followed? A really bizarre twitter conversation between me and an extraordinarily strange person.

(He would like to clear up the report that he was using a tripod. It was actually a GoPro Camera on a Monopod. He also didn’t run away into the woods – he had a getaway car. Because these are the important facts of this particular event.)

But it doesn’t matter if the answers are boring or weird – mysteries beg to be solved. And I cannot rest until they are.

And so, the mystery of Fred the Cat has been eating away at me since he showed up at our house in February – no way to be solved, no clues to run on, no tags, or anything else that could bread-crumb me to his secrets.

He comes and goes regularly, visiting other houses where he takes on other identities. Despite the fact that the neighbors that called him Cocoa moved away, leaving him down one food source, he looks healthier than ever, clearly getting fed by who-knows-how-many suckers taken in by his charm and boyish good looks.

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And my children adore him. Fred, the friendliest cat that ever lived. Fred, the glorious companion to Ali’s childhood. Fred, the only cat that will climb a tree on command. Fred, a member of our family.

Fred the Cat in a Tree

But despite over half a year slowly ticking by, we still had no clues as to where he came from or why he so purposefully chose us as his family. (I know he has many families but he makes us feel like we’re the most important to him. The boy is a charmer.) We even took him to the vet after he had gotten hurt during some spring storms. They treated his wounds and checked him for identity microchips, but still nothing.

Until two weeks ago.

When the neighbor’s nanny, a good friend of mine, casually said, “Oh! I meant to tell you. I know where Fred lives.”

The earth ground to a halt and my heartbeat attacked my ears.

“WHAAAAAT???

How could this be afterthought kind of news? This is groundbreaking!! This is the mystery that has eaten away at my soul for eight long months!!! THIS IS….okay already tell me what you know.”

She has a friend further down the street that has also fed Fred for over a year and a half (calling him by an unknown third alias), and long ago, Fred had a collar, so she knew where he actually lived, a block away.

She has even taken Fred back to his house when he had vet appointments, and because…Fred’s real owner was unhappy with the neighborhood status of Fred’s meal plans, as we are all as a group keeping him from staying home.

(The owner would likely be super-thrilled to know that I also treated her cat to a $200 vet visit, kept him inside for 24 hours to let him heal, and applied antibiotics to his eye for seven days. Oops. Sorry, neighbor.)

The problem is, the other non-owner neighbor will take Fred back home, but by the time she gets back to her house, Fred has beat her there.

Because Fred likes neighbors. Fred likes multiple meals. Fred is clearly an extrovert. And a player.

Oh. And….Fred’s name is Mowgli.

Fred lounged in the monkey grass on the edge of our lawn, indifferently listening to his life story.

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We tried yelling the different names in his general direction.

“Hey Fred!”

“Hey Mowgli!”

“Hey Cocoa!”

“Hey Cat!”

He responded to them all identically. Which is not at all. Because he’s a cat.

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So he will remain Fred at our house.

The mystery is solved, but the exultation of finally knowing the truth is, I must admit, somewhat overshadowed by the sadness that he is not indeed our cat.

Although I seriously doubt that stops him from acting like it.