The following is a true account of events that occurred approximately eight years ago.
My husband and I have always encouraged procrastination in our children, leading by example. So it was no surprise when our son started on his car for the Boy Scouts’ pinewood derby about four days ahead of time, given he had six months to prepare. Since creating the car involved saws and a molten lava-metal substance, he needed adult supervision, and I was the parent drafted to be involved in yet another last-minute project. My son and I went to work. After settling on the design, the car had to be painted, the lava had to be melted to weight the car, a few striping details were added, and, finally, the car was finished on the morning of the derby.
Having never attended one of these races before, I didn’t know what to expect that night. We walked into the church basement, guided by the troop leader to the room where the “weigh-in” occurred. “Wow, I wouldn’t have eaten lunch if I knew we were going–oh, you mean the car? My bad.”
While standing in line at the weigh-in we watched Mr. Super Duper Troop Dad handle the cars with the skill of a surgeon, placing each car upon a kitchen scale with the care and precision of one who is surgically affixing prosthetic wings to injured butterflies. This self-appointed Guardian of the Scale used the same process with each car. When it was finally our turn we stood motionless while he placed my son’s car on the scale, slowly removed his hands, took a deep breath, and exhaled quietly as he watched the needle swing back and forth between 2 and 6 ounces. After being convinced the needle was at its final resting place the results of our weigh-in were announced with solemnity, which happened to be identical to my weigh-in each morning: too heavy. This verdict required us to move on to “The Pit”, although I secretly thought it looked very similar to a pre-K Sunday School classroom.
In The Pit, the “Crew Chief” had what I thought to be a needle. I speculated (to myself) that perhaps he had started and finished a quilt while waiting for Mr. Troop Dad to weigh all the cars. I was wrong, however. The “needle” was a precision drill that allowed the dried molten lava-metal to be removed by nano-ounces–or some other minute measurement of weight–in order to get as close as possible to the maximum weight without going over, like a Boy Scout version of “The Price is Right”. A few shavings of metal were removed from the bowels of my son’s car, and we were instructed to go back to the weigh-in where, at this point, we would be in line long enough for the pinewood to fossilize.
When we finally passed the prerequisite screenings we were allowed to enter the room where the race was to take place. With my husband and parents in tow, we found seats near the door. I settled into a chair meant for a four year-old and prepared to feign interest in the race while mentally composing my grocery list. It was at this point I scanned the room and first began to take note of the other cars. Apparently, it never crossed anyone’s mind that the Boy Scouts’ Annual Pinewood Derby should be raced with cars that the Boy Scouts had created. Man Scouts had built these cars! Every car in the room, with the exception of my son’s car, was an engineering and artistic marvel. It was going to be a long(er) night.
I should have seen this coming. Think about the pageant moms, the cheerleader moms, the soccer dads, and the science project dads that fill our society these days. I’m not talking about the ones who encourage their kids to a reasonable degree and give them a helping hand when needed. I’m referring to those who, because they were so insecure in high school, are always trying to improve upon those four years by making up lies about what they accomplished, as if that time period defines them forever. I’m talking about the psychos who teeter on the edge of a fatal aneurysm if little Sammy throws a double play when it’s theoretically possible he could have thrown a triple, the insecure parents who live vicariously through their children and spit fire if their four year-old daughter takes second place in the swimsuit category. I’ve grown tired of these types of parents over the many years my children have participated in athletic and academic pursuits, and now even the Boy Scout troop was infected with these people.
As I sat there watching each and every car pass my son’s car on the track, I beamed with pride inwardly while meditating on the fact that I wasn’t like all the other parents there. My ego wasn’t so fragile that I had to spend six months creating a Smithsonian-worthy replica of a car just so all the other parents could see how awesome I must have been in high school. No, I was secure in my [wo]manhood. Even though my son may not have won a single race, at least he is authentic, and at least my husband and I are good parents who let their children glory in their own accomplishments.
As I sat on the chair meant for someone half my size my discomfort was alleviated by my (justifiably) self-righteous thoughts, and they took me smoothly through the medal presentations. My self-congratulatory love-fest was interrupted, however, when they announced that a medal would be given for the “most artistic” car.
My son received first place!
“Yes!” I heard myself yell. Thankfully my overly vigorous fist pump narrowly missed the nose of the adorable three year-old girl who was there to watch her brother compete (with the car her father had built).
I’m sure my enthusiasm wasn’t due to pride or a life vicariously lived or any other shallow reason. I was vindicated by the universe for all that is decent and good in life. Here was proof that races really aren’t just about winning and losing. As I was debating in my mind whether or not it would be a good time to give an impromptu speech on what a successful parent looks like, I began to notice looks of incredulity on the faces of the other parents. They seemed confused by the choice of my son’s car as the winner of the artistic (a.k.a., best) category.
I guess the announcer must have noticed the confusion on the faces of those harsh, overly-ambitious parents, as well. He cleared his throat and sheepishly announced, “Um, we awarded the artistic prize, of course, to the car whose design and paint job were obviously performed by a child — not by parents or a professional staff. This is the Boy Scouts, and we reward the participation of our boys.”
My parents are very involved, loving grandparents. They had attended the derby to see their grandson compete. As we walked away from the room, back down the hall, and out of the church’s basement doors, my mom noticed I looked a little faint. “What’s wrong, Sweetie?” she asked. I had a knot in my stomach and my ego was somewhere crushed beneath the gravel in the parking lot.
I had designed, built, and painted my son’s entire car.