Of all my childhood memories, the one of my father teaching me right and left is one of the most vivid. I don’t remember how old I was, I think old enough to read, but probably not quite old enough to write, maybe around 5? My dad asked me something, and I got the directionality all wrong – I said something was to the left and it was actually to the right. Dad corrected me, and a few minutes later asked me again, and I got it wrong again. I was embarrassed and went to the kitchen pantry, chanting to myself which hand was right and which hand was left. I thought I had it all memorized and emerged excited to the living room. “Dad,” I said, “this is my right hand, and this is my left.” Of course I was wrong.

Dad took an old wide shoelace. He tied half of the shoelace on my left wrist, writing an “L” on it, and the other half on my right, writing an “R.” He said, “okay, now wear this and look at the labels, and you will have it memorized in no time.” I ran back to the kitchen pantry, this time really concentrating on getting it right. I chanted and chanted, memorizing the names like a poem, and a few minutes later ran back to my dad. “Dad,” I said, “you can take the labels off now, I memorized it!” He asked if I was sure, and then cut the shoelaces with the labels off. “Now,” he said, “which is your right hand?”

I victoriously lifted my left one.

Dad, this is for you:

20 years later, I’m still having trouble. However, it hasn’t stopped me from working on the left front of my new wrap sweater: (the back is all done)

Or is the right front?


23 thoughts on “Directionality

  1. Rosa

    Are you left handed? Left handed people often have more trouble learning left from right than right handed people. I still have to think about it every time. Your wrap is looking great.

  2. Colleen

    Oh, so confused. Rosa’s comment is great, except I’m completely right handed, and I still have the right/left problem. I think that I get confused about something being to the left of me, and I’m to the right of it.

  3. Kim

    I hate left and right.. it should be banned.. and tarred and feathered.. My dad and husband always make fun of me for not knowing it like they do… Grr.

  4. Laura

    I also had the hardest time learning right from left. Growing up, I usually had to pick up a pencil or pretend to write to figure out which was my right hand. I became better at knowing the difference when I learned how to drive. I found that making left turns was harder than making right turns AND I knew writing with my left hand was harder than writing with my right hand. So, that cemented a mental picture in my mind of left and right. (But no, I don’t automatically know which way is right or left–I have to imagine driving a car. At least that’s less obvious than writing in the air.)

  5. jody

    Awwww. I love dad stories. I’m just as bad as you are in English. In other languages I get it right though! While learning the words I memorized them based on the classroom so I can visualize which word is which (I don’t know if this makes any sense). Now if I can just think of left and right in French, and then translate them to English I’ll be all set!

    BTW I see a little YO edging charted out up there. Have you been holding out on us?

  6. Cara

    Right there with you! I am notoriously bad at left and right. Doesn’t matter that my wedding rings are on my left hand. Doesn’t matter if I do the whole L thing with my fingers. Instinctively I get it wrong EVERY TIME. It’s a real bitch to drive with me. If you tell me to get in the left lane I automatically pull into the right.

    The funny thing though is that I have an excellent sense of direction. I rarely get lost. Rarely. I just don’t know my right from left. I think it’s some kind of dyslexic thing to be honest.

    Oh and I’m as right handed as you can get.

  7. anne

    oh, that is so funny! My husband, who is way more intelligent than he should be, has trouble with right and left. (No, honey, your OTHER left!) I’ve got left and right down cold, but could never get “inside” and “outside” right when riding in a ring (when a horse passes you, the rider shouts, “Inside!” or “Outside!” depending on which side she’s passing you on.). Near-horse collisions were a constant threat!

  8. Katie

    The way we taught our son was to show him that when he holds his hands up (palms away), the index finger and thumb of his left hand make an “L”. So, assuming he remembers what an L looks like, he figures out which is left. Obviously this is chiefly useful for English-speakers…

    I finished my sparkly socks!

  9. Diana

    cute, cute story. I can’t do the right/left thing without thinking either. The only time I can get it is when driving, but now I live in NYC and don’t drive, so its gone.

  10. Kathy

    My husband can’t discriminate left from right to save his life. He’s tried all the tricks, including looking at which hand wears the wedding ring. Nope, that doesn’t work reliably, either. He’s ambidextrous, which I think messes with internal wiring a bit. Doesn’t make any large difference in day to day life, but it *is* rather funny when I tell him to turn left…and then have to quickly add, “the other left.”

  11. Stephanie

    What a cute story! Dad’s are the best and oh so patient when we’re little. I’m sure you’ll get it figured out and the left (or was it right) side will be gorgeous.

  12. Corrina

    Raises her other left hand! I’m totally horrible at it. I have to do the “L” thing with my left index finger and thumb. Which works great, but is embarassing to do when I’m giving directions in person.

  13. Purly Whites

    I’m with everyone else, absolutely no ability to tell my left from my right. I’ve given up and resort to pointing and using “this way” versus “that way.” Cause I’ve got this way and that way down cold.

  14. Alice Twain

    Getting directions confused is not out of badly memorizing them, usually. It’s a symptom of one of the many dislexia-related problems (dislexia, disgrafia, discalculia…) about 1/4 of us human beings have them to a degree (yes, I am discalculic). The good part is that for the most of us the problem is so light that it does not have a deep influx with our everyday life. Except for mixing up things once in a while (like left slanting/right slanting decreases while knitting socks >8-[), or having a really hard time at solving equations (with pencil and paper), or not being able to remeber the correct spelling of a handful of words the big bulk of this 25% of people can lead a perfectly normal life. Only a tiny minority have them to a degree that can mes up their life, like not being able to read a text (but being perfectly able to understand it when someone else reads it and to summarize it afterwards) or not being able to count out the money to pay the regular daily purchases.

  15. Heather

    I had a super tough time with left and right too! I’m not sure why it was so complicated for me. The “L finger thing” pretty much worked for me but I still find myself having to think about it entirely too much.

  16. Carolyn B.

    Hi, Kathy! I had to giggle at your “directionality” posting. My husband was the one who taught our youngest daughter left from right, too. He used a different trick: Hold your hands up with each thumb and index finger making an “L” in the classic “LUSER!” symbol. The one that actually looks like an L (not a backwards one) is the left hand. I’ve caught her holding up her hands to check left from right more than once, too. ;o)

    Best – Carolyn B.

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