On the Left Hand, On the Right Hand

I’m the world’s worst astronomer. Three times, I’ve taken our two daughters to watch late-night meteor showers, but we’ve failed to see a single streak of light. I could blame San Francisco, where it’s alternately too foggy or too bright to see many stars, but I suspect that my cluelessness about where to look might also be an obstacle.

So last year, when we went to a countryside family camp under dark, clear skies, I thought the girls would finally get to see a cosmic lightshow.

Our 7-year old, Fern, followed my instructions precisely. She adamantly stared skyward. Her 5-year old sister, Claudia, quickly got bored and, as she always does, invented an alternative approach.

Eyes raised, Claudia waggled her head from side to side, laughing uproariously, then repeated the whole process. Concerned, a nearby teenage boy asked what she was doing.  Claudia turned and explained in a patronizing tone, “If you shake your head, you can see shooting stars!”

As Claudia continued quaking and chortling, Fern kept a patient watch for real meteorites. Once again, we didn’t see any. That night, only Claudia managed to see a shooting star, albeit inside her own head.

Claudia – perhaps significantly, our family’s only left-hander – is eccentric, even for a preschooler. She likes “zompires,” stuffing her entire body into one pant leg, and making “sandwich pictures” – two paintings stuck together face-to-face so that you can’t see what she’s painted.

Right-handed Fern, on the other hand, likes things most people would probably expect of a second-grade girl: horses, friends and purple. And that’s the problem: my “bragging dad” conversations (and Facebook posts) always start with something like “Claudia wants to be a toenail for Halloween,” not “Fern still loves school and works really hard.” I’m equally proud of both girls, but Claudia’s quirkiness makes better stories.

If I were to tell a tale about Fern, it would probably revolve around making a decision – one of her biggest challenges. Waiting in line at a supermarket last month, Fern had lingered for long minutes over choosing some gum, so I was trying to help while Claudia paged through a Glamour magazine from the rack.

Fern had just about picked a flavor when Claudia held up the magazine and bellowed casually, “I’m just looking to see if my picture is in here!” Several nearby shoppers laughed, as did I. And of course, the story I chose to tell at the dinner table that night was “Claudia entertained a half-dozen strangers,” not “Fern made a difficult decision today.”

Claudia gets more laughs. So how do I let Fern know that I value her equally?

Fern’s stories are sagas, not anecdotes: she is a hard worker who enjoys systems. When it came to picking a sport, she chose a strict form of Chinese martial arts with lots of complex poses to memorize. But again, Claudia’s sport is funnier – she invented a game you’d probably call “soccer rugby tag,” except there are also imaginary force fields involved.

So Fern’s right-handed approach to life doesn’t make for amusing stories, but it’s just as creative as Claudia’s wild abandon, and just as praiseworthy. When she eventually spots a shooting star someday, her perseverance will make it a true accomplishment.

And then I’ll really have something to put on Facebook.


Graham Charles blogs at Doodaddy.net

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