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.


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

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.


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

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.


Raising Children Worthy of Your Wealth

I was honored to be published in Happy Woman Magazine, a parody of the loads of garbage magazines published for women:

Besides the nanny, their peers, and the subversive influence of the media, no one will have as significant of a role in your child’s development as you. It is important to face the task of parenting with a fervor akin to that which you possess in the hostile takeover of a corporation and the level of discernment and research you put into choosing a plastic surgeon.

Due to the obnoxious nature of children in general, having to take the time to acknowledge your child’s seemingly ubiquitous presence will be one of your most challenging inner battles. With the success you have achieved in your life to this point, however, you are no doubt familiar with the sense of accomplishment that comes with setting a goal and reaching it. Imagine your joy when you can put a big check mark beside “Quality Time with Offspring” on your to-do list.

Long after your body is cryogenically frozen, your children will still be here, ruling the world from the same throne that is currently occupied by your surgically-sculpted bottom. As frightening as this may be, it is your job to mold your children and train them to be worthy of the money they will one day inherit. The following five points will ensure that your children turn out to be as prepared as the author’s, whose names are Maximillian and Margaret-Katherine, if memory serves.

1 — Teach your children to be thankful for all they have.

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Me, before putting on my designer jeans.

Those in the blue collar class have a habit of encouraging this quality in their offspring. Little Bobby Joe doesn’t like his peas, so his father says, “Son, there are millions of people starving in Africa.” Obviously, you will not be able to use this time-tested, guilt-inducing strategy since your daily caloric intake pales in comparison to that of the poor Africans’.  (Who cares about FDA guidelines when you want to look fabulously-thin in your designer jeans?)

Indeed, teaching privileged children thankfulness requires nothing more than your Bentley and a free hour. Drive through the impoverished sections of your town, calling to your child’s attention the complete absence of nannies, maids, and butlers. Point out the casual clothing the poor children are wearing as compared to the boarding school uniforms your own children are fortunate enough to don. Note the cars of the teenagers in the area. Likely, there is not a car over $75K in sight. Your children will realize the myriad of reasons they have to be grateful — the main one being, simply, they are better than everyone else — a burden they need to carry with humility and, yes, thankfulness.

2 — Teach your children the importance of a good education.

This is a short but important lesson. When their feet pitter-patter into the classroom on their first day of pre-school, they will be greeted by a dozen or so strangers and one shocking surprise: your parting words of instruction to the driver and your quick wave goodbye will be the last they hear or see of you until their boarding school’s winter break. The lesson will be indelibly imprinted upon their tiny, four year-old hearts and minds that a good education is more important than even a relationship with Father and Mother.

3 — Children imitate what they see; always be a good example.

If they see you being friendly to your staff, easy to please, and generally happy, what kind of bilge are you teaching them? They must understand the vigilance required to maintain a wide gap between the classes as this task will fall squarely upon their shoulders one day. For the good of mankind and the natural order to be preserved, they must strive to perpetuate an emotional distance from anyone not their financial and social equal. They must set the standards of taste by being impossible to please. When your stringent requirements have been met or even surpassed, there may be rare occasions when you just can’t find anything else worthy of complaint. Remember, your children will be watching. It is imperative that you maintain a dissatisfied countenance, even if you have nothing more to say.

4 — Teach your children they are always free to come to you with any concerns they have.

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A personal assistant is a must-have for those occasions you are forced to interact with your children.

An attentive ear, an open heart, and a pair of embracing arms are all that children need to feel loved and accepted. Therefore, it is of vital importance that they commit to memory your personal assistant’s cell phone and pager numbers. Your assistant can then set up an appointment with your children at your earliest convenience, if you feel up to it and/or interested.

5 — Teach your children the value of hard work.

Children of privilege quickly get accustomed to being served, which is wonderful and needed . . . as long as it’s not too early in life. They need to see how Father and Mother make their millions — namely, off the backs of underpaid laborers. The author’s son took several nasty falls down the stairs while learning this lesson. The author was subsequently criticized for being too enthusiastic about the “hard work” lesson, but she maintained that if a six year-old can make a vodka and tonic for Mother every day, he can certainly carry a few cases of wine down to the cellar.

In sum remember that tough love is usually the only love necessary. The philosopher Nietzsche eloquently stated, “Whatever does not destroy me makes me stronger,” and what better place to test his hypothesis than on your children? Armed with the previous advice and Nietzsche’s famous words, you now have every tool necessary to be a successful parent. Your precious treasures will bring you untold joys until your dying day . . . and then your children will inherit them. Parent well.