Greatest Love

CHAPTER ELEVEN – Greatest Love and Happiness

My children are my greatest love and have created my greatest happiness. They were also some of the most extraordinary times of humor. I try to show the ages and dates of stories where I can remember.

I was not the best parent. I know I made many mistakes. As with any armchair quarterback, looking back over what I did showed me many places I could have and should have done something different. However, despite the errors, they all turned out great.

I did learn several thoughts. Do things with your children…you and them personally and collectively. Get them involved in activities outside the home, whether at school, athletics, church, community, or whatever you have. It is well-known that a parent can tell a child (especially a teenager) something, and the kid may or may not believe it, obey it, or cooperate with it. But…let a coach, a scoutmaster, a community leader, a church leader, another parent, or ??? say the same thing, and the kid will believe. Have your kids and their friends welcome and invited into your home. Get to know your kid’s friends. Get to know the friend’s parents. If you are not ready to be that involved with your children, you should not be having any.

Here is one more thought before the stories begin. Many discussion books are written, and soothsayers pontificate how much control a parent should exert over a child’s life process. I do not need a book or a blog to offer my two cents worth.

When a child is born, it needs 100% control and protection. That should be obvious. The control and safety are best decreased incrementally until the child is around age sixteen (considering developmental capacity), when the child should provide 80% or 90% of its control and protection. (Hopefully, the child has been raised to understand and manage self-control and self-protection.) In truth, I believe that a child of age sixteen (assuming normal development and proper parenting) should be able to manage their own life. The trouble is, the child is not 18, not emancipated, and still lives at home. That makes the parent legally responsible for the child’s actions. Lawnmower parenting, helicopter parenting, snowplow parenting, or whatever is the latest term, is stupid parenting and may be well-intentioned, but it robs a child of learning to manage his or her own life.

Children, in order of their appearance at the hospital, i.e., appearance upon this earth: Eric, Michael, Russell, Shannon, Brian, Merideth. Now for stories.

Livin’ the Dream: One summer day, when Eric was about sixteen, the family had just finished dinner. Soon, Eric was heading out the front door, going who knows where. I called to him and said something to the effect of ‘Eric. Stick around. Get to know your family better.’ Eric looked at me with this incredulous look on his face, like I was a Neanderthal, and said: “Dad. I’m social.” Out the door he went. Lesson: If you are social, you must go hang out.

Russell and Ritalin:  When Russ was in kindergarten in Gridley, CA, he occasionally came home with items he had appropriated at school that did not belong to him…but he thought they did. He was only six, and the issue of right vs. wrong was not fully anchored in his little “grey cells,” as Hercule Poirot called them.

It was not long before the school people wanted a conference with Russ’ mother and me. In we went. They told us that Russ was hyperactive, talked all the time, and sometimes bothered other students. We already knew this. That is how he was at home. School people said they wanted to put Russ on Ritalin to help him be less active and verbal. I smiled and admitted Russ was very active, but told them we would NOT allow Russ to be put on Ritalin or any other psychotropic. My son was not going to have his growth stunted and be drugged. I told the school we would make more effort with him.

And now I ask you. What skill does an attorney need most? The gift of gab! And, of course, brain power, which psychotropics tend to diminish. Who knows? Maybe I am partly responsible that Russ became an attorney. 😊 Maybe it is partly my fault. Lesson: You are the parent. Figure things out for yourself. Expert advice is important, but the buck stops in your hands.

The 30-Second Test: As was told elsewhere, Russell would frequently talk … Mr. Motor Mouth. One afternoon, the family was having dinner. Russ, being his normal self, was talking, speculating, suggesting, and helping everyone at the table recognize the reality of things. Russ must have been twelve or thirteen years old.

I and his mother kept telling Russ to let someone else talk. Finally, I had had enough. I offered Russ a deal. I bet him he could not cease to speak for 30 seconds. “Yes, I can.” I bet him he could not and offered him $5.00 (big bucks in those days) if he could not say a word or make a sound for 30 seconds. He insisted he could do it.

The deal was set. By the way, you should have seen his sibling’s faces around the room. They were all staring at Russ with grins of disbelief. I looked at my watch and asked Russ if he was ready. ‘Yes.’ ‘Ready, set, go.’ I clicked my watch. It was hilarious watching Russ grit his teeth, pursing his lips, and his body jerking while he tried to keep from talking. He managed … but then at 18 seconds: “But you know dad…oops!”  Russ gave us all a great laugh and was good-natured about it. I do not remember whether I gave him the $5.00; perhaps Russ will remember. Lesson: Just because you flunk a 30-second test does not mean you will be unsuccessful in life.

How to Win Friends: The family first moved into Gridley, CA, around the end of 1978. The children all needed to gain new friends, adjust to new schools, and go from Arizona living to California living. Michael, a social, gregarious person, made friends. Truthfully, all the children made new friends. Mike got to know a boy his age named Cameron. For some reason, Mike and Cameron got into a fight, a knock-down, drag-out kind of affair. I never knew the reason for the fight; frankly, I was not worried about it. However, one of Cameron’s parents called to tell Mike’s mother and me what a bad kid we had. The parent (mother) was helicoptering, I guess. One would think the two boys would now be mortal enemies. Wrong! Now they were best friends…boundaries got set.

Oh, and the helicoptering/snowplowing mother made no apology for suggesting Mike was the spawn of Atilla the Hun. You have to love life! 😊 Lesson: Just because things begin poorly does not mean they will remain poorly.

The Mud Attack: One Saturday morning I went out from the house to the parking pad behind the garage. There I saw the family car with a streak of mud on the roof. The car was a bit dirty, but the only mud was on the car roof; not on the hood, not on the trunk lid. Eric had the car out Friday night to visit friends. I asked him how the mud got up onto of the roof. He gave one of those ‘deer in the headlight’ looks and said he was not certain. He did add that he had to drive through a muddy puddle at the entrance to his friend’s house. He thought it must have been that puddle splashing up. I just looked at him, my face reflecting ‘do you really think I will believe that?’ Then, with a smile, I walked back into the house. Lesson: Parents should pick their battles. If you fight about everything or ignore everything, you will lose your child.

Mud-Doozing: Some weeks or months after the Mud Attack incident, I told one of Eric’s friends about the car with the mud on the roof. He said he had no idea how mud got onto the roof but no place else. I joked with the friend, pointing out it was funny that mud jumped onto the roof. The friend joked back. With a laugh, he told of a time that he and his friends were with Eric in the car, and they were “mud-doozing, ” meaning they were in the car as they drove through a recently irrigated peach orchard. The friend caught himself and insisted that nothing had happened to the car that evening. Lesson #1: Be careful what you do. All your friends may not be closed-lipped. Lesson #2: Another battle not worth fighting.

How to Get Your Neck Rung: When the children’s mother and I were trying to improve/save our marriage, we would occasionally go for a weekend. One weekend, we went to the coast of California, about a four-hour drive from home. We were there for a while when Merideth, who was seven or eight years old, called and said she was home alone and scared. Her older brother Brian had been instructed to keep track of her while we parents were gone. Merideth was asked if she knew Brian’s whereabouts. She said he had gone to a friend’s house…people we knew and of whom we approved. It was OK that he was at their home. It was not OK that he left Merideth alone. I called the friend’s house, got Brian on the phone, and gave him alternatives. He could either go home and watch his sister, or he could go home and bring his sister to his friend’s house. Failure to do one of those would bring me home, and “I will ring your neck.” Brian said OK. I told him to have his sister call when she was OK. 20-25 minutes later Merideth called and said she was at the friend’s house and OK. The friend’s mother knew Merideth and liked her. Lesson: If you are going to commit child abuse, do it for a solid reason.

Boys Night Out: I used to take Friday afternoon off and go down to Oakland to watch an Oakland Athletics baseball game. It would be me and the boys and boys’ friends. We would arrive at the back of the ballpark and sit in the bleachers in center field. If the game was boring and we got lucky, drunks in the bleachers would entertain us. Usually, there was a little action in the bleachers. One time, Shannon and her girlfriend (forget the girlfriend’s name) wanted to go. After much pleading, I agreed. We got to the bleachers, got our popcorn, and set up to watch the game or the extra-bleacher activity. At some point during this game, a fight broke out between a couple of drunks. It was entertaining, with loads of laughs, and security controlled it in no time.

We got home, and the girls were excited to tell of the brawl they had witnessed. (The boys knew better than to talk about stuff…you know…that Las Vegas thing: What happens at the ballpark stays at the ballpark.) Well, the girls did not know the rules. It probably would have made no difference if they had. They told everyone, including mother…then I caught HExx. Lesson: When allowing girls to participate in guy fun…educate the girls about the rules (and then hope they keep them).

Who Drives, Walks for Gas: We were on the way home after an Oakland Athletics ball game. I recall that it was me (Dad), Eric, Mike, Russ, and friend Blane. Eric (oldest son, age 16 or 17, I forget) was driving. We ran out of gas about 5 miles from a gas station. I had warned the driver the gas gauge was not spot on, but Eric kept saying it was OK. The rule always was that the driver walks if the vehicle runs out of gas. The boys looked at me, asking when I was going for gas. Not me! Eric was driving. Since we were not carrying a gas can in the vehicle, there was a discussion about how they were supposed to bring the gas back. I told the boys they could figure that out on their own. Not my problem. I was not driving. So, Eric started out walking with Mike and Blane. I think Russ decided he did not want to walk. Gas was obtained…maybe a lesson learned…and we went home. The gas station man was tickled at the boys’ plight, so he loaned them a gas can. Lesson: Listen to your father. He may just know something you do not.

Kingman Lifestyle: My initial employment following university was in Kingman, AZ, with high desert, high winds at times, scorching summers, and relatively cold winters. If you wanted a lawn, you spent a fortune on soil amendments and water to keep it green. More often, one would see the front yard, a slab of concrete painted green (really!), or Astroturf covering the front yard. At least neither of these required any water. Public buildings and commercial outlets seldom had any lawns, often no trees or shrubs. Lesson:  If you live in the desert, your favorite color should be brown, grey (concrete), or black (asphalt).

Kingman Garden: I have always wanted a garden since being an adult. However, my mantra is: I am done when the weeds are higher than plants. Even wanting to garden was amazing, considering I hated pulling weeds in my father’s garden when I was young. I tried to have a garden in the backyard of the Kingman house. Dirt was as hard as a deadpan, with water running across the top, hardly soaking in. I tried to teach the children, but they were young and not interested. I should have known then that none of my children would be interested in gathering garden produce…unless it was at the local grocery store. Lesson: The desire to be a gardener comes from within, not from an overly persuasive parent.

Wrong is Wrong. No Reason or Justification will change it: Shopping at a local grocery store in Kingman, AZ, we finished, paid the clerk, and went to the car. At age four or five, Eric got into the car, proudly sporting what he had appropriated at the store. I asked if he had given the man (male clerk) some money for the item. His mother and I had not paid for it. Eric honestly said he did not give any money. He did not know or had not been taught about the capitalistic system: You pay for what you get (unless you are a thief or a looter—but that is another story—neither of which applied to Eric).

Determining that the item was taken without payment, Eric (age 6 +/-) was told to return it to the store and give it to the clerk. The item had not been opened. From the car, we could see into the store and see the clerk. Eric did not want to go back. He asked for a parent to accompany him. No, he would go back on his own. Heading for the store, he turned toward us in the car several times. He was waved onward. With his head lowered in the store, he put the item up on the counter. (There was no one in line.) Eric looked toward the car; maybe he pointed. The clerk looked toward us. I waved. The clerk smiled and nodded to Eric, who returned humbly to the car. He was congratulated for doing what was right. Lesson: It is never too early to teach a child about honesty.

Everyone Deserves a Turn: One evening, the family had a Family Home Evening; we had them often. (Those were times when an evening was set aside for the family to be together and enjoy each other’s company.) Typically, we would often sing songs. The children’s mother or Shannon (who was taking piano lessons) would play the piano while we sang. This particular evening, one of my favorite songs was chosen: Give Said the Little Stream. Merideth insisted she wanted a turn playing the piano while we sang. From around the room came the suggestion she wait until she knew how. Merideth was four or five years old and certainly not skilled to play the piano. However, she insisted, and I decided to ‘let Merideth play.’ She rose purposely, parked herself on the piano bench, and began to “play” as we began to sing.

What occurred was beyond any expectation; it was absolutely hilarious (and wonderful). It took significant control to keep singing and not be overcome with laughter. Merideth pounded the keys vigorously, used all the keyboards, and had no organization or plan (that I could perceive). By the time the playing was complete, Merideth’s siblings were rolling on the floor, laughing and cheering her on. Her mother had tears in her eyes from laughing so hard, and I knew my little girl had found a new strength within her soul. Lesson: Strength of character grows as we challenge ourselves to new tasks…whether we know the task or not.

Ramps Are Us: Living in Gridley, I came home one afternoon to find Michael on the back patio running the video camera. It was when skateboards and ramps were becoming popular with the young set. The Wuehler boys had built several small ramps for use with their skateboard. They had built these ramps using a jig saw to cut the wood. I did not allow the use of a circular saw. I did not want the boys to cut off some body parts accidentally that they may need later in life. (I have since been told the boys did use the circular saw when I was not around.) Michael had positioned the many ramps they had built around the patio. He was videotaping and talking about each ramp’s special qualifications and uses. It appeared they were going to sell the ramps. It was comical, actually. Lesson: An entrepreneur is born every minute, offering every kind of product or service. 

Confidence: Merideth was about 10 when her mother and I were separated and divorcing. Merideth and I had a few hours of daddy/daughter visit. On the way back to her house, a comment about the divorce came from Merideth. I do not remember what triggered the comment. She said, “I am not going to let this ruin the rest of half my life.” Lesson: Do not allow the mistakes, problems, or behaviors of others to control your life.