When I was born, parents didn’t know whether they were getting a boy or a girl until birth, so they often had two names ready. If I had been a girl, I would have been Susan. Instead, I was David Michael.
When I was young, people would often comment that my sisters and I all had “Bible names,” so they assumed we were named after Bible characters. But my mother let me know that I wasn’t named for Israel’s King David, even though I adored his exploits because of our shared names.
No, I was named for an inventive little boy who appeared in a series of elementary school reading books. My mother taught young children from these books. And I still have a copy of one of the books from which she taught. The one I have is called “More Friends Old and New,” which had been in print in some form or other since 1912.
I was leafing through this battered old copy tonight — reading the story called “Wheels for David” — and realized that my mother made a good choice. She gave me something to live up to.
In the story, David’s father gave him three wheels. They were nothing fancy. Just three little wheels. But David was excited.
“David got a box, some nails, and tools and went to work,” the story says. “Soon he had made a small car for himself.”
But then he ran into a tree and one of the wheels was damaged. It wouldn’t work as a cart anymore. But David wasn’t upset. He decided to nail a handle onto the two-wheeled cart. And he had a nice little cart on which he could haul things from the nearby store for his mother.
At the end of the day, yet another wheel was lost or damaged. Again, David didn’t get upset. He just repurposed what he had. He moved the remaining wheel to the center of the front and added an additional handle — turning it into a makeshift wheelbarrow. And he used that little wheelbarrow to take old papers out to the trash for his mother.
On his last trip with the papers, the remaining wheel broke off and rolled onto the street, where a truck ran over it. David was left with no wheels.
That night, there was rain and it got cold. There was ice everywhere the next day. And David was outside with his no-wheeled cart flying over the ice.
“It’s not as fast as a three-wheeled car,” David told his mother. “It’s not as handy as a two-wheeled cart. It’s not as useful as a one-wheeled cart. But it’s just right when I want to slide on the ice.”
My mother told me she liked this little boy — and this little story — because he displayed some of the things she wanted for me.
— David was happy with small gifts, even something that seemed as useless as three little wheels. He didn’t complain that he didn’t get something better. He made something for himself from what he had.
— David was inventive. He didn’t just look at what his dad gave him as three wheels. He looked at them as a piece of something bigger he could build for himself.
— David didn’t give up when he suffered setbacks. When he lost one wheel, he changed his plan. When he lost the second wheel, he changed plans again. When the third wheel was lost, he was resourceful enough to find a new use for his box.
It makes me happy now to think about my mother wanting these things for her unborn first son. She had taught this story in her classrooms enough already that I’m sure she had thought it through — and she wanted me to be that sort of son and for us to be this sort of family.
The family part never quite worked out, but I can still live out the lessons of David and his wheels.
I want to be happy with whatever others are willing to give me, rather than complaining that I deserve better. I want to be creative and inventive in using whatever life gives me to build whatever I can. I want to be resilient and flexible enough to keep changing as setbacks force me to change plans.
It might sound silly, but I like this little boy. I like seeing things in my childhood which really do remind me of him. And I like thinking that I still have the chance to be like him for the rest of my life.
I’m happy to know where my name came from. And I’m thankful to have had a mother who was thinking of the values she wanted me to live, even before I was born.
I wish now that I had the chance to tell her that.