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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Human Papilloma-Cyrus

The public reaction to Miley Cyrus‘ performance at the VMAs is surprising.  Though I haven’t spent much time, if any, searching for opinions on her antics, a mere glance at the nightly news, Twitter feeds, Facebook, and internet news sites alerted me to the buzz her performance generated, most of it negative.   The public, it seems, is shocked by her sexually-provocative dancing with the juxtaposition of her being prominent on the Disney Channel a few years ago.  The thought goes, I assume, that little girls will be influenced by Miley’s grown-up behavior and act in a similar manner, much to the chagrin of their helpless parents.  My view is a little different.

What happened on stage is merely a symptom of an underlying virus in our society, what I’ll call the Human Papilloma-Cyrus.  Treating the symptoms (the twerk-heavy dance number with foam finger bonus footage) with gasps and declarations of how shameful the performance was seems shrill and counterproductive.  It’s akin to treating cancer with an aspirin.   There is a larger, underlying virus at work in our culture at large, and until it is eradicated we will continue to see this type of behavior and worse.

As these types of discussions often have political undertones I feel I need to make several disclaimers.  I am very conservative on some issues and equally liberal on others.  I am not a persnickety old person who is constantly whining about the youth in America.  I like sex and an occasional glass of wine, maybe two.  I am a Christian.  I consider myself a true feminist, and I believe a free-market, capitalist system, though imperfect, is the best.  I have a daughter who is a month younger than Miley Cyrus.  Obviously none of these things grant me expert status on whether a specific dance move is racist or what types of anti-bacterial product is the best for cleaning foam fingers, but I stay informed with what is happening in popular culture.  I am especially familiar with Miley since my three children watched the Disney Channel throughout all the years she starred on Hannah Montana.  One last disclaimer….I am not a conspiracy theorist.  Of course, that is usually the final remark made before someone in an aluminum hat spouts off his manifesto from an underground bunker.

The “virus” that I think is at the heart of Miley’s performance is the attempt to switch the roles of children and parents, a kind of Freaky Friday scenario for American culture as a whole.  Generally speaking, the dad is the butt of every joke, always the dumb, clueless buffoon who can’t tell his shoe from an antelope.  This is especially true in commercials and on popular television shows and a little less so in movies.  It makes for good comedy, sure, but–make no mistake–kids pick up on this and act and treat their own parents accordingly.

The same thing is done with daughters and their mothers but in a slightly different way.  The mothers (the ones who should be acting like grown, sexually active women) are flitting about in Winnie-the-Pooh or Mickey Mouse sweatshirts, cooing over things tweens and teens should be interested in.  Their daughters, on the other hand, have been given free reign since the age of nine to text, Google, wear, watch, tweet, or listen to anything they want.  What they want is to have the privileges of adulthood without the responsibility, and that inevitably expresses itself in a sexual way.

The not-so-much-a-conspiracy part of my argument is this:  Who gains from this role-reversal?  I can’t begin to point out all the possible answers to that question, but I believe it wouldn’t hurt to look in the profit margins.  Little girls, even more than boys, who are given a blank check to satisfy every whim are a target for companies who see a money-making potential.  More accurately, the wallets of the clueless parents are the targets.  If no profits were to be made from these things they would not happen.  To put it another way, if Americans changed their spending habits and chose not to shower their daughters with material things and opportunities best reserved for responsible adults, this behavior would at least decrease or be less visible.  And, yes, their attitudes and resulting material desires result from what they see in the people who they look to as role models and idolize.

As an aside I believe the official video of “We Can’t Stop” by Miley Cyrus is far more alarming than the VMA performance, and this video represents exactly what I’ve been discussing in a dark, rather disturbing way.   The obligatory youth rebellion theme is prominent, albeit in a grammatically-deficient way (“We run things, things don’t run we”), but the mixing of the child-like and the adult is insidious.  View the video at your own discretion.

For those not inclined to subject yourself to the video, a verbal description is provided for your convenience:

Grill (the mouth type), weird facial contortions, smoke from a man’s nether-regions, writhing, eating a money sandwich, lip gloss, French fry skull face, tongue, more tongue, twerk, swimming pool, gum-chewing, more pool, combination writhe/gum-chewing, chopping off fingers and bleeding Peptol Bismol, dancing teddy bears, writhing, scary mask, writhe, tongue, teddy bears, mask writhe, exercise bike (physical fitness is always good for you), alphabet soup, twerk, exercise bike, pronouncement of how only “God can judge ya”, taxidermy, an awesome coat that would make PETA angry, a reference to getting cocaine in the bathroom, making out with a doll, pool, dancing, “U-C-K”, dancing that could be hard on the neck, more smoke from the nether-regions, pool, thumb-sucking, pool, tongue, lying on a bread bed, teddy bears, scary mask, teddy bears, unitard that is uncomfortable apparently, pinata filled with hot dogs (I think), twerk, teddy bears, really strange tongue, sunset or sunrise, “Dope” onesie, wrestling in pinata droppings, contemplating life’s deeper meaning in “Dope” onesie, tongue, writhing in world’s biggest shoes and gum-chewing, tongues, gold fingernails, Guinness World Record for ugliest image at end of a music video.

Picture from popdust.com

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/02/miley-gap/#comment-234598

Writer’s World

I write.  I may be here, but I may not be present.  I am not always going to notice the things that other people notice or the things you want me to notice.  You may look at me and think I’m being unproductive, but I’m actually hard at work.

And I work hard.  I don’t romanticize what I do.  I write sentences and I re-write sentences, hoping to end up with something that appears as though I have crafted sentences.

Please forgive me, my friend, if I don’t remember birthdays or notice your new hairstyle.  I hope you can look past my failure, dear family,  to clean up behind myself or to be a normal parent.

But I do notice things.  I realized, dear friend, you changed your hairstyle when you brushed your hair to the left side of your face, and as you did your white, manicured nails fell beside your ear where big rings of silver dangled, landing finally on the side of your tanned neck.  I meant to compliment you on your hair, but I forgot to mention it once I was distracted by the mosaic of white, silver, smooth, blonde, and brown that was happening around the area of your left ear and upper neck.

Please don’t think I consider my work noble.  I write not because I am trying to save the world.  It is the moments of life in this world I want to save.

I overhear a child say something that could mean one of a million things.

There is a cupboard in the corner of the antique store that is at the breaking point with its stacks of porcelain plates, but one plate looks out of place.  I can’t move on to the next area until I find out why…or at least create a reason why.

A thought occurs to me about truth, about existence, about life.  It is so beautiful, so important, that I have to stop time and put it on paper before it disappears forever.  And I can’t betray the profundity of the thought by messing it up with my words, the way I do so often.  I must sit here and keep going so that you and everyone else can see the heart-stopping wonder, pain, grace, horror, loveliness, and aching that is this world where we live.