Left, right, left

I’ve been thinking. Scary, I know. I’ve been trying to define the most important life skill we learn as children.

To walk—that’s pretty important. But parents don’t really teach, as much as encourage, toddlers how to stand up and get going. Sooner or later, a child will walk whether someone pushes him or not.

It’s the same with talking. It’s important to be able to communicate to be sure. But a child will figure it out by paying attention and then mimicking those around her.

When my brother Donald had not uttered a word by age three, our mother took him to a specialist. The doctor examined the blue-eyed boy and found no physical issues.

“He’s got two older siblings talking for him all the time. This young man will speak on his terms. When he does, it will be in complete sentences,” said the expert.

Not long after that appointment, Donald started speaking—in complete sentences. My brother, the late-talker, attended college on a debate scholarship.

But, as I said, neither talking and walking counts.

Potty training. Now, there’s an important skill. I haven’t done much research on the subject, but I doubt all kids would exchange diapers for toilets on their own.

In my experience with children, successful potty training requires continual encouragement mixed with lots of bribes. When you walk into a bathroom and see a candy jar full of M&Ms, you know there is a toddler in the house.

Potty training falls into the category of proper hygiene—brushing teeth, flossing, bathing, etc. All are big, as in HUGE, for people who wish to live and work near other people, for people who hope to have friends.

I doubt potty training and proper hygiene are priorities for individuals who live solo in caves. I am, however, hazarding a guess. I am not acquainted with any cave dwellers.

All of the above are significant, but the skill we most take for granted is mastering the difference between left and right.

Go ahead, laugh. And after you have giggled and cackled and hee-hawed, think about what life would be like if we could not distinguish left from right.

Everything from hands to feet to sides of beds, cars, and roads would become “this way and that” with a whole lotta pointing going on.

I’m not certain how we would explain in an email or text that someone is right-handed. Not knowing left from right would cause major frustration in relationships.

Without the gift of left and right, how would we tell someone over the phone how to locate something, anything?

“Honey, I can’t find the hammer.”

“It’s in the garage beside the cooler.”

“On which side of the garage is the cooler?”

“The side across from the beach chairs.”

“There are beach chairs on both sides.”

I am talking about a “Who’s on first, what’s on second…” in the worst possible scenario in every house and business all day long.

We explain things in terms of left and right at least a gazillion times a day. Without knowledge of left and right, how would we give directions?

“When you reach Oakdale, turn onto Maple. Uhhh…wait a sec. Are you coming from Johnson Avenue or Davidson? Never mind. Just turn onto the road between a beige house and an aqua house.”

Without left and right-hand columns, how would we do math?

I wouldn’t be who I am without “The Hokey Pokey”: “Put your right hand in, you put your right hand out….”

Or Dr. Seuss: “Left foot. Left foot. Right foot. Right. Feet in the morning and feet at night….”

Good thing I’ve got left and right down—for the most part. Distinguishing my left from my right in front of yoga or barre or any other exercise instructors remains a work in progress.








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