World Domination at the Pinewood Derby

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.

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This is pretty much an exact representation of the quality of all the other cars there. Image courtesy of thetorquereport.com

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.

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This is a good approximation of what my son’s car looked like. Image courtesy of pjhoover.blogspot.com

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.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/daily-prompt-surprise/

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Football and Quantum Physics: Spooky Sports Action at a Distance

I wrote an e-mail similar to what’s below to my daughter last football season, but it seems especially appropriate today with Tebow’s departure from the NFL:
Sports these days is becoming a sore subject.  I am at once happy and sad about Peyton’s success on the field Monday, as I also am concerning the Jets’ win.  If I were the type of person to appeal to a sports deity I would definitely say he/she has some sort of controversy with me right now.  Not believing in the power of my fan-dom in the first place in that it has any effect on the outcome of games or even who is put into the game for longer than two snaps, my inclinations are only confirmed in the fact that NOTHING is going the way I would choose in the perfect JJ Stone’s-World-of-Sports scenario.
I should have seen this reality rising to expeditiously smack me in the face since in that very same world the following truths exist:  I run marathons; John Elway’s team never wins; Michelle Beadle is on SportsNation;  Tebow plays quarterback, free safety, kicker, special teams, coaches, and announces every football game, although I’m beginning to tire of hearing how he’s wanted to be quarterback since he was a little boy; I have a black belt in karate or some other Asian-sounding thing; you go to the Olympics in boxing but none of your blood is ever spilled forth from your beautiful face; child #3 wouldn’t have a torn ACL; child #2 would still be playing baseball; Daddy would admit that I’m better than him in basketball.
So you see, I’m in quite a quandry.  My biggest sports “victory” this week was that child #3’s fantasy team pulled out a come-from-behind victory going into Monday Night Football with Eric Decker’s good game for the Broncos.  His bench outscored his starting lineup because he benched Aaron Rodgers accidentially (who had 39 fantasy points) and played Andrew Luck (who had a whopping 5 fantasy points).  This all begs the question….when your greatest satisfaction in sports for the week can be attributed to your son’s fantasy team victory, how many standard deviations from reality does that make you?  Sports inhabit the entertainment realm in the first place, and now we have fantasy sports on top of that?  With all these extra dimensions of reality maybe string theory is truly that unification model physicists are searching for.

Lessons from a Politically Incorrect Mom

One cold December night our family had the privilege of spending time with two children from a foreign land.  My brother had befriended a classmate, David, who had moved with his family from Israel to America.  David and his little sister ate dinner with us one night and afterwards attended our church’s annual Christmas party for kids.  They seemed to enjoy it.

Later that evening we dropped the two beautiful children off at their house, their big brown eyes wide with excitement from the night’s festivities.  Their sweet mother stood in her driveway thanking us profusely in broken English for letting her children hang out with us.  As my mom turned to leave she paused as if a light bulb of awareness suddenly came on, a tiny voice letting her know that some sort of disclaimer needed to be made.

She turned back to the Hebrew mom still standing and waving in the driveway.  “By the way, I really didn’t think about this before…but I hope it’s okay.  We had hot dogs for supper tonight.  Your kids loved them. I buy the inexpensive kind so they probably don’t have much pork in them at all, your family being Jewish and everything.”  So after dropping Hiroshima, she continued by immediately delivering Nagasaki .  “Oh, and we took your kids to church, and they sat on Santa’s lap.  They also sang Christmas carols.”  She basically couldn’t have potentially offended them more if she would have replaced David’s yarmulke with a Santa hat and handed him a basket of Easter eggs to replace his dreidel.

I like to imagine in my mind that the next day as David’s family hightailed it on the first available flight back to Israel that security guards arrested my mom as she chased the plane down on the runway holding a box full of Jimmy Dean sausage and American flags, something to remember us by.

My mom meant no offense, and I truly don’t think any was taken, but when she got back in the car that night she thought for a minute and then let out the tiniest of laughs.  Then, slowly, as the scope of what just happened fully hit her, her laughter picked up until she was in full-blown crying mode.  And I was right behind her.  My mom has always found it easy to laugh at herself, and from times like this I learned two important lessons.  First, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.  Second, don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself, laugh often, and laugh so hard that you cry.