Picture a toddler, perhaps about three years of age. She has blonde hair, the type of baby blond that will eventually darken with age. She is wearing a pink shirt, short sleeves, maybe some matching bottoms or a skirt. Her mother is washing dishes at the sink. She shuffles across the floor, the way toddlers do when they’re trying to find their legs, and approaches the kitchen table. The rim of the table is just above her head. The curve of a glass peeks over the table’s edge. The toddler reaches up with one roaming hand and from the other side of the kitchen, she hears her mother say “use both hands.”


JG Chayko using two hands

That toddler was me. I was being taught one of the many guidelines I would learn throughout my childhood. The two hand rule was useful for young hands that haven’t developed dexterity and strength. This rule came second to “remember your please and thank-you’s” and just before “don’t hit your brother”. I heard this phrase most often with heavier, more fragile items – a full glass of milk, plates, and the occasional vases – any item my parents deemed precious enough to be kept in one piece. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood I gained confidence and developed my agility and strength. I abandoned the two hand rule and perfected the divine art of multitasking – I could grab a mug of coffee with one hand, write on a notepad with the other and even answer the phone. “Look Ma, one hand.”

In the years that followed, I acquired one speed – fast-forward. I always felt like there was never enough time to complete the multitude of tasks I assigned myself each day. There were times a few calamities occurred in my haste to get things done but mostly I raced through my days, reveling in my brilliant efficiency. Then the wall of arthritis popped up from the ground and I grinded to a halt like Wile E Coyote.

With the onset of RA, my hands gradually grew weaker battling the inflammation and pain. I started to drop things. At first it was small things my newly swollen fingers couldn’t quite get a grip on – keys, coins, pens, and cutlery. Eventually I graduated to larger items – mugs, plates, milk cartons, books, pots, grocery bags. I didn’t connect my increasing clumsiness to arthritis right away. I had always had the knack of mishandling objects, mostly due to rushing. It’s hard to curb a habit years in the making. Arthritis coupled with my natural impatience to get things done caused me drop things more often. The precision of my hands was getting lost in the swelling of RA. I would reach for something, only to watch it slide from my grip and become a casualty of the floor. Unable to bear the battlefield I was making of our home (not to mention the many expletives pouring from my mouth at such moments) my better half elegantly admonished me with “use two hands”.

I knew I would have to revisit the days of rediscovering my strength and proficiency. I was now going to learn that just as small hands need extra time and patience, so do the hands blighted by arthritis. That’s when the “two hand rule” of my childhood was brought back to life.

Two hands to pick up my glass, two hands to handle the milk carton, two hands, two hands, two hands…and, an added addendum to the two hand rule – slow down. Wait a minute? Slow down? Does he know who he’s talking to? But I had no other choice. It was frustrating knowing that on certain days, I didn’t have the luxury of the deftness and strength I once enjoyed. I had taken for granted the simple and mechanical use of my hands. It took some time, patience, some braces, and a lot of reminders, but eventually the two hand rule became a natural part of my movement. I discovered that taking a moment to use both hands didn’t slow me down as much as I imagined. I became reacquainted with a simple rule from my childhood and the universe did not end.

The two hand rule has become indispensable in my life. In an unexpected twist, it has slowed my pace but not my efficiency. The extra couple of seconds it takes to use both my hands has turned out be favorable for me – and our pocketbook.