Wednesday, December 9, 2015

On Becoming Left-Handed

When asked “are you right-handed or left-handed” I generally answer “I have one of each”. Aside from usually getting a chuckle, I really mean it. I have two, pretty much interchangeable arms and hands and whichever seems best to use at the time normally gets the nod. But it wasn’t always that way. As a young boy I was very right-hand dominant, but I have two left-handed brothers, a right-handed brother and a right-handed sister, so genetically I think they both appeal to me and I just wanted to become ambidextrous. It wasn’t really a big project, more like a series of things I learned to do both ways, a little bit at a time. It just added up over the years. Here are some of the memories I have of my journey.

One of the first things I can remember doing from the left side was hitting a baseball. Like the pros, I could see the advantage of hitting left-handed versus right-handed pitchers (which most are) and right-handed versus left-handed pitchers. So in my pre-teen to early-teen years I swung the bat both ways. What I learned, which was a huge for my future left-handed tasks, it that I swing left-handed very differently than right-handed. While it seemed like both arms are identical, they are really two separate limbs that need to be treated differently. Trying to make one side swing exactly like the other side is foolhardy. I needed to let each do its thing its own way. So I swing right-handed with a little uppercut, while left-handed the swing is fairly flat. That’s the way they work naturally and I’ve learned to embrace the difference. That’s been true for every other thing I’ve learned left-handed.

While not in chronological sequence, but on the topic of baseball, I learned to throw a ball left-handed while raising my right-handed son and left-handed daughter. We had just one right-handed and one left-handed glove, so I would while throwing with my son I would use the left-handed glove (which counter-intuitively goes on the right-hand) and throw left-handed. With my daughter, she would use the left-handed glove and I would throw right-handed. Over a few years I became pretty good at throwing left-handed and the real challenge was learning to catch the ball with my right hand. You learn along the way that your right hand isn’t always great at the jobs you’ve relegated to your left hand, and its learning process can be just as difficult. To this day I think I throw better left-handed than I catch right-handed.

Eating was another logical move to left-handedness. As a kid I was always hurrying through dinner, eager to run back outside to play or flop on the floor in front of the TV for a favorite show. Eating foods that required cutting used to require switching the fork to my left hand so my right could cut, then putting down the knife, switching the fork back, stuffing my mouth and repeating that sequence over and over. Seemed much faster to learn to keep the fork in my left hand and teach it to find my mouth without stabbing myself. I started on the easier foods to eat left-handed, things like mashed potatoes that can be scooped, and then moved on to harder foods like peas, those pesky things that like to roll off a fork. I’ve mastered all that to the point that eating right-handed feels very strange. Except for spaghetti and suchi. The right hand still handles those two exceptionally difficult foods, but I continue to make progress.

One of the best things I did to improve the fine motor skills on my left hand was to switch my computer mouse to the left side, while keeping the left and right mouse buttons the same instead of reversing them, which would really mess up any right-handed mousers using my system. It took a few days to get the hang of it and after years of left-handed mousing, like eating, switching back to my right hand feels downright awkward. Mousing left-handed has the additional benefit of freeing up my right hand to hit the Enter key, which is always on the right side of the keyboard.

In addition to baseball, my basketball, tennis and squash games also benefited from two good hands. Being able to shoot a basketball with either hand allowed me to come off a pick set in either direction and pull up for a jumper. I would drive either baseline and get a good banking angle for a layout. In both tennis and squash I can either hit a right-handed backhand or a left-handed forehand, and vice versa. It also extends my reach by 2-3 feet by being able to hit a forehand either way.

Being ambidextrous means you always have the angle on every task. Most useful is turning a screwdriver. Sometimes it’s easier to reach that screw with the left hand, others the right. Other times when the right hand gets tired, the left hand gives it a break without. Opening tight jar lids requires a strong counter-clockwise twist, which the left hand is in the strongest position to deliver. For the really stuck lid, a good whack on top usually does the trick. That thump I deliver right-handed, which seems uniquely fitted to that job. Left and right handed teamwork, at its best.

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