Thumb Twiddlers

“Idleness is the Dead Sea that swallows all virtues.” ~Benjamin Franklin

I am a thumb twiddler. I hate it. I have to be doing something all the time. If not, my hands are restless. Kind of like my mind. Idle minds and hands are not good things in my opinion. They must be kept busy to be sharpened.

My grandmother (Big Mama) was a thumb twiddler. I hated to watch her twirl her thumbs and wring her hands. It made me feel nervous. It made me weary of growing old. I always wondered why she did it and now I understand.

She would sit on our sofa or ride in the car and twiddle her thumbs all the while. And now I know why she did it. She was a woman who kept her hands busy. They planted, weeded and harvested her garden. She cleaned her house, cooked meals, and mended clothes. And of course, she was a vibrant talker who expressed her emotions not only with tone but with her hands.

Thus when she was forced to be sitting at someone’s home, she didn’t know what to do with her hands so she politely sat them in her lap and actively twiddled her thumbs. I’m sure her mind was busy ascertaining the current situation. And because she was not actively engaged in the conversation she didn’t need to use her hands. She exchanged expected niceties that didn’t necessitate expression.

I’ve only recently discovered how much I am like my grandmother. I often find myself twiddling my thumbs if I am in a situation where I am not in control or bored. I feel the need to stay busy. If I am even watching television I am not content unless I am multitasking with my laptop or some fiber art in hand. If I am a participant of formal conversation where I feel pressured, I restrain from talking animatedly with my hands by twiddling my thumbs. Dang, I hate that I do that. I never realized that habits can be generational.

33 thoughts on “Thumb Twiddlers

  1. My mother was always busy doing something. She left that work ethic to me…so it is a rare and beautiful thing for me to just sit. Doing nothing. Doesn’t happen often, but when it does…it’s glorius.

  2. Ya know SC, that’s really not a bad habit in the grand scheme of least not to me anyway. 🙂

    I also feel the need to be useful in some way all the time…

  3. I never realized I did it until I was in a class in college and they video taped me being interviewed. I twiddled away and if I wasn’t twiddling my thumbs, I was wringing my hands. I’m glad I saw that video because from that point forward, I’ve made a conscious effort not to do it because it makes me look “anxious”. (Hell, I am anxious, I just don’t want to look anxious!)

  4. This is such an interesting post, because it reminded me once again how our HANDS are such a powerful way of expressing ourselves. I mean it makes total sense to me because we’re always thinking and feelings things, so if we are not able to verbally expressing ourselves, then perhaps our hands are doing it for us.

    I know for me, I use my hands to talk, so if I’m not talking….my hands are usually moving in some way.


    Great post, SC!


  5. I’m not a thumb twiddler as such but I do have a curious habit of kind of ‘playing’ with the edges of my fingers and nails (that sounds ridiculous – I can’t explain it – you’d have to see it)! I was told that I rolled my favourite blanket around between my fingers in a very similar way as a very young child, so it’s no doubt a comfort thing. Like you, I’m not so great at just sitting and doing nothing and if it goes on too long I’m one of those people with a knee wobbling habit – as though I’m nervous about something. (Crumbs, as I write this I realise what *fun* I must be to have around)! 😀

  6. I am exactly the same way, and never noticed I am just like my Mom. We always have to be doing something.

    If I sit down for any length of time, I need a glass of wine in one hand and the remote in the other!

    Happy Monday!

  7. It is such a hard thing to just sit with oneself. As a single mother, I do not often have time to just sit, as I can always rhyme off a zillion things I could be doing. I love visiting at other people’s houses for that (especially my Mom’s), as I can just sit back and enjoy my kids, my company and me. It is wonderful and freeing to not HAVE to do anything.
    …but then I get home, the list hits the floor again and I am off again.

  8. Knit. Really. You should knit. It’s the perfect “keep ypur hands busy” activity. I too have trouble just sitting still. I can’t just sit and watch tv, I have to be doing something with my hands while I watch. And my Mama was the same way, so maybe it IS hereditary.

  9. My mom is a thumb twiddler, too. She has to stay constantly busy. She is the biggest multi-tasker I know. I think it’s an excellent quality!

  10. Both my mother and grandmother would go bonkers if left idle for a single minute.

    I do fidget, and I jitter my leg (which drives my mother batshit crazy) but even so, I’m able to sit still much better than my predecessors.

  11. I think TV is a waste of time. Don’t get me wrong, I watch TV, but if I am not DOING something else while watching TV I just feel it is a waste.

    I do believe that quiet is good for the mind, body, and soul. Either meditation or just quiet . . . not moving . . . not thinking . . . just quiet. Restful . . . peaceful . . . stillness. Listening only to the heart beat and the air moving out and in . . .

    I think in this day and age it is definitely a learned skill. With cell phones, iPods, and so much hustle and bustle it is a challenge to just be still. But I believe it is necessary.

    • I seldom ever watch tv…Grey’s Anatomy and that’s about it, occasional documentary….and I must be doing something else with my hands. I wish I could just be still…can only do that when on a walk, convening with nature, or just before drifting off to sleep. Maybe, if I didn’t feel so guilty about doing nothing, I could learn to meditate?!

      • My hubby is a “re-watcher”. We own movies and we re-watch them over, and over, and over . . . so usually I am doing something else (yay! iPhone!)

        I understand how one might feel guilty “doing nothing”. Especially when you have kids, a husband, a household to run, and maybe a(nother) job. But I believe it is like everything else we do for ourselves. Like brushing your teeth, flossing, eating healthy, it is for a healthier, happier you. And it could not be the same for everyone, if one does not believe it is necessary, than it might not do that much good.

        If one understands it is just one more “tool” in our wellness tool box, then one can take the time for herself without guilt and get some benefit. And as I said, it is not easy to do the world is a busy place.

        PS: Thanks for commenting back, it always makes me feel special. 🙂

  12. I have never twiddled my thumbs, but during the day I feel the need to keep busy. At night, though, I am more than ready to slow down and relax.

    Thank you for commenting on The Jason Show today! I will see you around….

  13. it’s so hard for me to sit still. I always feel like I need to be “accomplishing” something. It has taken a long time for me to “get” that doing nothing is sometimes doing something

  14. I love that you picked up on your grandma’s thumb twiddling traits. I hold my hands EXACTLY like I always noticed my gram holding hers too. It’s eerily funny.

    Oh, and I saw a security guard sitting in a golf cart the other day literally twiddling his thumbs. I almost stopped to tell him what a cliche he looked like but that woulda been mean.

  15. Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!


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