Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lessons Learned: The Pinewood Derby

The Pinewood Derby. A time honored tradition among Cub Scouts and their parents. A chance for father and son (in our case father, mother, and son) to create something out of next to nothing, all in the hope that your certain something ends up being the fastest something to roll down a hill. Gravity is your ally. Your foes...friction and air resistance.

Your standard issue, regulation materials: one 5 ounce block of wood, 4 nails, and 4 plastic wheels. There you have it. The possibilities are limited only by your time, talent, and M.I.T. level engineering capabilities.

In the Chicago area, we don't have the luxury of housing production in garages or outside areas--It's just too cold. So the basement it is. Mom is nervous about paint, glue, etc. invariably landing on hardwood floors but trying to stay in the spirit of the thing. In other words, I shut-up.

Drill/carving dry-run. Note E's intensity.

Now, as you can imagine, there are some folks who just go over the top and once over again when it comes to manufacturing the most aerodynamic, friction free, expertly crafted wooden car known to the derby world.

Others opt for form over function...

And then there is E's, which is somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately, I have yet to snap a photo of it and the cars are still impounded. So I'll have to add that later. Suffice it to say, it was something like this:

The night before the big race, cars are officially weighed to ensure that the 5 ounce maximum is not exceeded. Then the tiny vehicles are impounded. These Cub Scout leaders know a thing or two about Cub Scout parents. Surely these cubmasters realize that if they don't confiscate the engineering marvels, moms and dads across the land will engage in all-nighters to perfect their creations. Worse still, parents are famous for showing up late no matter what start time is indicated. Better to impound the car the night before rather than battle it out with dad as to why little Cooper's wonder machine cannot be included. After all, they were "only 45 minutes late". I digress.

After several qualifying races, E placed a very respectable 4th place. Mom and Dad...jumping up and down ecstatic. E...let's just say his reaction was a bit more sedate...

J and I were thrilled that E not only participated but that he received a real, honest to goodness trophy. And guess what? It didn't say, "Honorable Mention for Those With a Pulse". It really, really said 4th place. E, on the other hand, was going for first and was bewildered by his parents' slacker mentality. To his credit, he held it together. But as you can see, he's also not beaming with pride.

So you see friends, we're still learning. We spent so much time on the car and the design ideas and the plans and the whole whoopity do dang dingle, we neglected the most important, most valuable part here. The fun. The joy. And somewhere along the line, E picked up on it. So for the time being, J and I are on an over-achiever moratorium. Call it a self imposed time out for mommy and daddy. Rehab for the results addicted parent.

Because we sure want to see a lot more of his pre-trophy demeanor:

And less of this:

E is pictured fourth, coincidentally.

Yes siree. We're learning, right along with him.

As for the trophy...well, let's just say E had a change of heart. On his way to bed that night, he retrieved the lesser award from where he had nearly discarded it several hours earlier.

"I guess this isn't so bad, huh?", he asked as he polished the trophy adornment with the top of his PJs.

"Not bad at all my sweet little bear. Not bad at all", I reassured him. And I held back a lump as we marched up the stairs to his bedroom, trophy clenched in his still baby-like, chubby hand. There are so many of these every day lessons in store for my little boy. And for us parents. You can always win another trophy. But you can never relive the joy of that exact, particular moment. You just have to hope that a similar opportunity presents itself. And with God's grace, there will be many more.

Enjoying our blessings as they are given instead of lamenting over the prize or the award not received. A goal for the whole family, apparently. And for many others, no doubt.