LEFT? or RIGHT? (and we’re not talking politics)

The left hands of six good friends and very talented writers. Can you tell which ones are right-handed or ambidextrous?

Dear Mom,

I remember first grade, proudly holding my hand up TWICE in answer to the teacher’s two questions. First question: “How many of you are right handed?” (We were 5 and 6 year olds, it was the first day of school, and she had to explain the question to some of the students.) In answer, I held up my right hand, as did many of the others. Then she asked, “How many of you are left handed?” I paused a second and then held up my left hand.

The teacher gave me an irritated oh-no-here-we-go look. But after I showed her I could print my name with my right hand AND my left hand, she tapped my right hand with a ruler and said, “From now on, beginning in this classroom, you will use this hand.”

At home I continued to use both hands, but at school I avoided the ruler and joined the majority of right-handed students. Maybe it bothered me more than I realized. In 5th grade I began “mirror writing”—even in cursive—writing from right to left. I could write it quickly, and anyone could easily read it by holding the paper up to a mirror, but the teacher wasn’t impressed, so I stopped doing it at school.

Well Mom, guess what tomorrow, Monday, August 13th is?  It’s International Left-Handers’ Day!  In honor of those good old “confused about which hand to use” days, here are some statistics. About 90% of the population is right-handed, so that leaves 10% left-handed (but maybe some were actually ambidextrous and lumped into the big group against their wills). And speaking of ambidextrous, there’s an unproved medical theory that difficult or stressful births often happen among babies who grow up to be left-handed or ambidextrous. But the AMA doesn’t endorse it. Just as most religions do not accept the ancient superstition that left-handers were more prone to evil and are either weaker or stronger on both sides of the body than right-handers.

Eight of our presidents have been left-handed, most recently George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. On a Qwerty (standard) keyboard, 3,000 words can be typed with only the left hand; 56% of the touch-typing keystrokes are made with the left hand. In fencing, about half of the participants are left handed.

What I really want to say to you on August 13 is Thanks, Mom.  At home I could always use whichever hand I wanted. When I was learning to knit, you taught me the basic stitches, but you also took me to a left-handed knitter to learn, and then you let me choose. And when I did mirror writing, you were irritated only because I’d actually written a sentence on the mirror…with your lipstick. After I cleaned it off, you had me write on paper, and you complimented me, saying I was creative and talented.

Years later, a teacher myself, in a classroom of high school students I’d sometimes quickly write information on the board in mirror-writing. The students who could read it without hesitation would nod and smile, but most of the others had to squint and  figure it out. No one felt bad. It was okay either way. You had taught me that.

It was just one of the many things you taught by example, Mom, and I thank you.

I’ll be coming from Colorado to visit you in Kansas soon, and together we’ll celebrate International Left-Hander’s Day a few days late. I’ll bring the lipstick, we’ll write on the mirror, and then we’ll celebrate with cookies.   Love you, Mom.   Marylin

With my mom and Flat Grace (hand-colored by mom’s great-grandaughter, Grace)



Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, teachers, teaching, writing

45 responses to “LEFT? or RIGHT? (and we’re not talking politics)

  1. juliabarrett

    What a wonderful mother she’s been. Such a loving, open-minded person. It’s no wonder you drive to be with her so often.

    • Thanks, Julia. She really is a sweetie and quite wonderful, even with the dementia. But I’ll take my own lipstick (and paper towels to clean it off the mirrors) because she’ll probably remember that.

  2. I am a right handed person. However my signature and everything I write leans towards the left. Figure that one out! Signature of either a brain surgeon or physco!

  3. Molly

    Well if a difficult birth lends itself to being a lefty, Grace should be the strongest left handed kid around. But she isn’t!!! Grandma was always all about letting kids (all kids) be creative and experimenting… no wonder you turned out so creative………

    Great blog, as usual!! Love YA!

  4. Thanks, Mookie. But those aren’t the only examples in our family.
    Hey, you were posterior, which made for a hard labor, as I remember it. Gannon’s actual birth was easier than Grace’s, but not the 2 months leading up to it! And Grandma didn’t have it easy getting me born almost a month early. If difficult births lead to left-handed kids, our family would be dominated by left-handers, and probably much more than 10% of the world would be, too. So I’d guess there’s something more to left-handedness than just hard vs. easy births!

  5. I’m left-handed, too, and I thank my mother for letting me stay a lefty! We shall celebrate National Left-Handers Day tomorrow 🙂 Wonderful post.

    • Thanks, Judith. You celebrate tomorrow, and I’ll wait until later in the week when I’m in Kansas with my mom to celebrate Former Ambidexterity. We’ll make these celebrations last and last!

  6. Your mom was so cool, not only to let you use your left hand but also to help you learn things the “left” way. My mom is left handed but was forced to use her right hand only in school. She has terrible handwriting with both hands. I’m right handed but somehow there are a few things I can do only with my left hand, including ironing and playing mini golf. Weird, huh?

  7. It’s amazing how we use the left hand for some things, the right hand for others. When I wanted to give my left hand more opportunities, I moved the mouse to the left side of the computer, and I’ve never moved it back. Now it’s a habit. But I still iron right handed…when I iron. ;=)

  8. It’s good that you continued to use both your hands and be ambidextrous. I write with my right hand – do most things with my right hand – but on some occasions I tend to use my left hand more, like opening a bottle cap.

  9. Nancy Parker Brummett

    Not surprised to hear you’re ambidextrous–no wonder you can do so many wonderful things!!

  10. I still have a callous on the middle finger of my right hand where the pencil would lean against it. I was never discouraged from using either hand. When I learned to play guitar, I just learned to play it like other right handers because I didn’t feel like re-stringing the guitar. Over the years I’ve found that I’m pretty ambidextrous for most things… but I still can’t write legibly unless I’m using my left hand!

    Great post!

    • I’ve heard of right-/left-handed scissors, power tools, knitting and crocheting techniques. Thanks for telling me about having to “re-string” the guitar based on being right or left handed, Nicole. I wonder if that would apply to all string instruments like violins and cellos, etc.

      • LOL – I just realized my comment is a bit off… I have a callous on my LEFT hand. Go figure!

        I’m not sure if it applies to all string instruments. I remember for guitar there are modifications that can be made to make it more comfortable for left handed people.

        I’ve heard of left-handed scissors as well, but I’ve never used a pair. Not sure if you ever saw The Simpsons, but their neighbor Ned Flanders ran a store in the mall called the Leftorium for a few seasons, which sold all sorts of items and memorabilia for left handed people!

      • Okay, if The Simpsons featured a mall store called the Leftorium and it lasted for a few seasons, what better endorsement do we need? (Thanks for clearing up about the callous being on your left hand. I have one on my right hand, and I was trying to figure it out! )

  11. A very nice post!

    My dad is left handed and was whacked with the ruler in Catholic school for it. I’m also left handed, and he made sure no one ever did anything like that to me.

    My wife is left handed too. So we were anticipating the possibility of another lefty when my son was born, after all, left handed baseball pitchers can have very long careers! But no, pretty quickly we realized he’s right handed!

    • I can’t imagine being whacked with the ruler. It was enough to be told what to do and tapped with it. I was still 5 when I started first grade, and the teacher was ready to retire. She gave me a very experienced, very stern no-nonsense look, and it made a believer out of me. It took me until fifth grade to respond with mirror writing, so maybe it wasn’t rebellion as much as just boredom and just wanting to try another form of writing. Since your son didn’t inherit left-handedness, you can try mirror writing! ;=) Thanks for stopping by. Join us again.

  12. TBM

    I never understood why it was so important for lefties to be righties. Seems like a silly thing to fret about, but I know teachers did. I’ve always been right-handed, except in the fifth grade. I broke my thumb and had to write left-handed. Unfortunately I didn’t keep up the skill.

    • I never understood it either, and maybe now it really doesn’t matter. I taught for 30 years but it was high school, and no one gave it a second thought; they came in writing however they wrote. But just think, according to legend and superstition, if you kept writing lift-handed after your thumb healed, you might be doing some very different things! Thanks for sharing.

  13. Me, I’m a right hander, but for some strange reason have always worn my watch on my right wrist even as a kid, which always made people assume I was left handed , I think it was just down to the fact that I never liked to conform to stereotyping…

    But then there was the problem with the bullet and the hand and I had to learn to be left handed and do you know the hardest thing I found to do, brush my teeth left handed – go figure that one out – it just felt so strange. Hand writing was a bit straggly but readable, and now I am back to being a righty in most things

    Love the photo of you and your Mom and Mr Flat Three great big smiles

    Happy left handers day xxxx

    • Thanks, Tom. Mom and I will celebrate when I visit her next week, and actually, we’ll celebrate using either hand you want, whenever you want!
      Brushing your teeth lefthanded is hard, eh? Hmm. I’ll have to try that.

  14. Pingback: International Left-Handers Day « My Lovely Little Spot

  15. Okay, I hope you know just how lucky and blessed you are in your mother. Seriously, we don’t all have such luck. And being two handed is quite handy in my opinion.
    Thanks for visiting my blogcasa and leaving tracks back to yours via your comment. 🙂 namaste

    • Believe me, I do know. She’s always been an exceptional woman and still is, even now with the dementia. Thanks for visiting the blog and commenting. You’re doing a amazing job with yours. Growing up near Oklahoma, I thought I had a fairly good understanding of Native American issues, but you are opening my eyes.

  16. I was also lucky, Marylin…my mom was left-handed and accepted my left-handedness with ease. She was quick to show me how to turn my paper correctly, so that I wouldn’t have to curl my hand in order to write. She had not fared so well…back in her day, she received failing grades in penmanship…even though she had a beautiful handwriting…because she used her left hand. 🙂 Thanks for sharing these beautiful stories with us, Marylin…I never met your mom…but I’m blessed to “know” her through your writing. 🙂

    • You were lucky, Vivian. And based on your creativity, your “out of the box” suggestions and encouragements with children, I’d guess you do a lot of things with both hands very well.

  17. Great post, sounds like you have a lovely mom. I can’t even believe a teacher would smack someone for using their left hand!

    • You have to remember that I was in first grade MANY years ago (gulp, 1955) and the philosophy then was to help students fit in to succeed, i.e., use their right hands. Piano teachers back then sometimes used rulers to whack the hands of sloppy piano students, too. Maybe the secret is to get rid of rulers as well as these attitudes?

  18. I love the idea of your blog – its so warm, and warming. This post is very interesting. Of course I agree with you about no connection whatsoever between left-handedness and evil, but do understand that left handed people use their mind differently than right-handed people – apparently, and usually in creativity. I once read that more painters and writers are left-handed than not, but have not seen any further study on that.

  19. I’m back again, to let you know that I like your blog so much, I’ve given it an award! You can pick it up at my blog. http://innerhomestead.wordpress.com/2012/08/16/sunshine-award/ So glad I found your blog 🙂

  20. Thank you, Judith, I’m honored to receive this. I appreciate your comments and enthusiasm!

  21. Pat

    Lots of this went on. Ridiculous now, in the cold light of common sense. But I am sure that many people will remember having left hands tied behind their back so they couldn’t use them.
    I am a lucky right hander, hopeless with my left.
    Used to play squash with a (very irritating!) woman who would change hands to hit the ball (and win!) Cannot think that there could ever be any sensible reason to make the right hand right, apart from the name.
    Latin for left – sinister.

    • Changing hands with the ball in squash? I’d say she really was talented…and successful, too. Latin for left is “sinister”? At least we’re beginning to understand where some of the bias began. Thanks, Pat. I love your input.

  22. I’m a righty, but have an ambidextrous son and grandson – makes life fun. We do have a couple things in common though. I also mirror write. I can write backwards and backwards upside down. The second thing is that I also have used that as a teacher as an ice breaker. Mirror writers are either very rare or I just haven’t come across many of them. Thanks for sharing your struggles. Angie 🙂

  23. Oh, Angie, I wish I’d grown up thinking being ambidextrous was fun. But mirror writing saved me, then and when I was a teacher and could do mirror writing on the board. Backwards upside down was never my strength, or the strength of any of my friends, so you are very talented!
    Thanks for sharing this, Angie.

  24. It’s taken me a while to come say hi, but what a cool skill to have! And even better that your Mum let you be ‘you’. Isn’t there a theory that the ambidextrous among us are smarter? 😉

    • If you asked my brother, Alarna, I’m sure he’d say it just made me a show off, challenging him to try to do mirror writing or use both hands. I guess it’s a matter of perspective. Thanks for stopping by, and I look forward to reading more on your blog.

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