a tale of two hands (and a toothbrush)

I think there are certain things that we do all the time that we never question, or never stop to wonder about. For me, I’m quite likely to question and wonder about these things eventually. It might take years and years, but one day, maybe in a half-awake daze, I’ll wonder, “why is it that I do this like this?”

One such habit that has come under scrutiny is the way I rinse my toothbrush after using it. (Can you tell this is going to be a riveting post?)

Firstly, a bit of background: I’m right-handed. When I was a kid, I tried to learn to be ambidextrous, but that proved too hard. I can write very slowly with my left hand, and also use chopsticks left-handed, so that’s something, but I generally leave everything up to the right hand.

That is, everything except rinsing my toothbrush.

How it happens is that I brush my teeth with my toothbrush in my right hand, and when I’m done, I pass it to my left hand to hold, and the left hand takes care of all the movements necessary to get the toothbrush rinsed and clean.

I don’t think I’ve ever tried doing this with my right hand, but I suppose it wouldn’t be very hard. Still, the thought of it is weird, like wearing a badly tailored shirt that doesn’t sit quite right on your body.

To figure out why I do this, I thought about the way I turn on the tap. Perhaps I’m more comfortable with turning on the tap, and controlling the water flow, with my right hand. But the tap is in the middle, and it’s just a simple up/down lever. It takes more coordination to hold and rotate the toothbrush.

After relegating this minor phenomenon to the back of my mind, I stopped questioning it, and carried on with my life. Then, not long ago, I had a conversation with DL that made me think of this unexplained left-handedness of mine. I explained to them how it was strange, and I didn’t know why I did it.

And then it dawned on me — the reason for this behaviour had to go back further to when I first learnt to brush my own teeth.

The sink in the bathroom of my parents’ home (where I grew up) had been replaced a long time ago. I don’t remember exactly when, but it was after I had learnt to brush my teeth, and long ago enough that I had forgotten about the old one. The new sink has a tap in the middle, and you just move a lever up and down to control the water, and side to side for temperature (I feel like there should be a proper name for this kind of tap, but I can’t be bothered finding it, so I will just call it a lever tap).

This lever tap is suitable for use by left- and right-handed people without any greater difficulty for one or the other. However, before this new sink came along, they had one where you have one knob on the right for cold water, and one on the left for hot water (it all comes out of the same tap in the middle, but the temperature controls are separate).

Since I’ve always rinsed my toothbrush with cold water (because the tap’s never on long enough for the water to heat up anyway), I would’ve learnt to turn on the cold water with my right hand, and consequently would’ve had to hold my toothbrush in my left hand.

Once the taps were changed, I just kept this habit without even considering that I could save a minuscule amount of time by not switching hands. After all, my toothbrush holders have always (coincidentally?) been on the right-hand side of the sink; so I could pick up my toothbrush, brush, rinse, and then put it away all with my right hand. Yet I still do this pointless switch at the end.

I don’t think it’s worth trying to change this habit, but I’m glad I know the reason behind it now, and I can put this minor life mystery in the “solved” pile. The other lesson learnt is that sometimes talking about something helps with thinking about it. If I had continued ruminating on my own, I might’ve never solved it; but having a second mind to at least bounce ideas off really helped.

2 thoughts on “a tale of two hands (and a toothbrush)

  1. Nothing better than figuring out why you do what you do. I’m into introspection so I suppose it makes sense that I’d say that. I am right-handed most of the time, so the world kind of lets me be me. But I know to be left-handed comes with different challenges. Glad you talked to an *ah-ha* moment.

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