Kindergarten: Learning that I was “different”
“Rejoice and love yourself today
’cause baby you were born this way.” ~ Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga had the world behind her when Born This Way hit the pop charts a few years ago.
But being born different wasn’t always viewed as reason to celebrate, especially if you were born left handed like me.
This week recognized International Left Handers Day. August
13th was designed for me and the estimated 7 – 10% of the
world population believed to be inconvenienced for being born left-
handed in an otherwise right-handed world.
With paper and pen being replaced by texting, the obvious differences
of being left-handed are often overlooked today. Except for sports and
an occasional reference to POTUS, society pays little heed to left-
handed people and as far as I’m concerned, it’s not a bad thing.
However, today’s left-handed holiday beckons me to reflect on my
own experiences as a south paw. The holiday also gives me opportunity to
share how society has adapted, changed and perhaps become more tolerant
when dealing with what’s different.
To begin with, I am old enough to recall how generations before mine
viewed lefties. Once “discovered”, left-handed children were quickly
taught to reform – and conform - by learning to write with their right
More surprising, being left-handed brought the bearers of this unique
condition into the realm of suspicion. Similar to black cats,
left-handed people were considered odd and enigmatic.
That’s me in the photograph above, exactly fifty years ago this
month. I was weeks away from starting kindergarten, proudly
donning a school dress purchased in anticipation of my formal entry into
I wonder today: Did anyone know I was left-handed before I
stepped into class? Did I know or even care that I was different?
I have long been told that I was the subject of study by two college coeds (one in education, the other in psychology) who found me a bit different as a child.
I wrote backwards. A black and white composition book reveals that my
capital L’s were reversed and my 5's looked like 2's. I remember my
lessons and having various letters and numbers circled for correction.
My interpretations could have been a sign of dyslexia, a condition
neither discovered nor diagnosed in the early 1960s.
I learned later on that my being different went beyond the typical
writing of a dyslexic student. In my case, I wrote sentence upon
sentence (likely copied from looking at the written word elsewhere)
and none of what I wrote could be interpreted by the naked eye.
“I had to hold your written work up to a mirror in order to read it,”
an elder cousin informed me, smiling. It was definitely different.
As a lefty, I was the student who looked different in class.
I positioned my papers at an odd angle and twisted my left hand and
arm into strange contortions so I could write like everyone else.
I have also been keen about seeing things at the end, but first. This
strange proclivity seems quite natural to me but has often caused
conflict. What I see as an obvious outcome has been, at times, argued or
criticized by those around me.
“Maura, you see the end at the beginning,” my husband
frequently reminds me. And it’s true. What is natural to me is not
normative to others.
But, there have been other elements that have made me
different. I appear quite intelligent on some levels and can often
deliver nuggets of wisdom. However, ask me to drive around the block or
find my way out of a mall without paying close attention to where I’ve
entered and I can become easily disoriented.
My being different showed up even in midlife when I started blogging. My earliest recorded blog was entitled Tombstones
and it dealt with death. In a fashion that appeared natural to a
left-handed person who begins flipping pages of a book from last page to
the first, I was writing my last blog first. After the end, it
would feel natural for me to scribe the rest.
A few months ago, I learned something new from a retired college professor. While sitting at a luncheon, an elder gentleman remarked at how I passed the rolls across our table.
“A lefty,” he observed in animated fashion, “and a woman!”
I smiled, not comprehending why he found either of my attributes to be of interest.
“I conducted a five year, unofficial study of left-handed women
after realizing how different they were, ” he informed me. Apparently,
his study found that left-handed women differ even from left-handed men
and prove remarkable in the manner in which they process information.
“How so?” I asked, now wanting to know his findings.
“For starters, I’ll bet that you could stand beside anyone and feel
who they are. You would refer to it as intuition but has more to do with
the way your left-handed brain functions. You interpret differently.”
Quite right, I thought. I have unintentionally surprised people
by ascertaining their primary and unofficial occupations and other
things about them which they hadn’t yet disclosed.
Okay, I thought. I’ll give you that. But why?
He explained that most people, including left handed men, process
information in linear fashion. Left-handed females do not. For example,
if people were asked to measure the depth of a lake, most would process
the depth in horizontal fashion and continue descending level by level. A
left-handed female mind would process the depth in one take. I’d call
that Oriental thought versus Western thought, but it did make some sense
He went on. “I’ll bet you wouldn’t know how whether to file the word Paper Clip under P or C.”
I laughed out loud. “You’re absolutely right! I have one vertical file at home and it’s all marked Important.”
It’s not easy being a left-handed female. But I’ve never known life any other way.
As Lady Gaga says, I was born this way!
Maura Sweeney is an Author, Public Speaker and Publisher
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