We are new to the world of cub scouts with Hunter starting last fall and last week we had his first pinewood derby. For those not in the scouting world – pinewood derby cars are a big deal and people take it far too seriously in my opinion. They gave us a kit weeks in advance so we could start work. I first tried pushing the project on Steve. It would be great father/son time, right?
Hunter was interested in the project, but it wasn’t something he kept pushing to work on. We had a talk with him early on – chances of us building a first time car that won was slim, so we might as well make it look cool. He wanted it to look cool and be fast. He was bound for disappointment.
He started sketching ideas and narrowed it down to one idea – he wanted the car to look like a fish skeletal. After seeing the sketch of intricate cutting, the project shifted back to me because of my mad power tool skills.
We worked side by side. I did the hard cutting. He sanded forever and painted it up real nice. He went to school with his car looking great. I had to drill some holes in it and wouldn’t you know it, just three hours before his car had to be turned in, I broke the thing in three pieces. It was so far past gluing back together because I couldn’t even find one of the pieces out in the grass.
I was sick. I just ruined his first car after he spent so much time working on it. I sent Steve to pick up a new kit at the scout store and then we both looked at the wedge shaped piece of wood and wondered what we were going to do to get it ready in time. There was no way I could cut it out and get it painted again. Hunter was at a friends house after school and I called to break the bad news. His response was quiet, “Why would you break my car?” As if I did it on purpose.
We did the only thing we could think of. We went from trying to build the fastest car. To the coolest car. And then we shifted to the most valuable car: We wrapped it with money. No painting required. Necessity is the mother of invention.
He was happy with it, that’s all that mattered.
The next morning we showed up to the races realizing just how novice we were in the field of Pinewood derbies. Some of these cars were clearly made by experts and were in a different league all together.
The set up of the races had you racing every car at least once, which meant every car would go down the track at least 21 times. Hunter’s car started out a little rocky. His wheels weren’t balanced well and he wiggled down the track. He lost several in a row and I could see him across the gym a little down. I walked over to talk with him and we made some adjustments to the wheels – just enough to help him win a couple races out of his 21.
As I was talking with him, a friend was talking with her son whose car wasn’t doing well at all. She explained he had created the car all by himself with out help from anyone, he was really proud of it. I watched it race down the track several rounds, crossing the finish line last every single time. I could see his hurt and discouragement and yet his car didn’t stand a chance to the semi-professional cars he was up against.
After a short racing intermission, the cars were called back to the track and this boy’s number was called. He didn’t move from his seat. He had lost 12 consecutive races, he didn’t need another race to remind him he was in last place. His mom tried convincing him to get up but he refused and then tears started to roll down his cheeks. It was breaking my heart to see his struggle and without notice, tears rolled down my cheeks too as I talked with his mom. There had to be something we could do – Steve leapt into action and found another car he could race against and win – but it was too late. I caught his mother just as they were walking out and her son was already in the car. He was done.
I walked back in deflated. I’m okay with kids experiencing disappointment – that’s life. But for some reason, in this circumstance – it was far more than disappointment. It was disappointment wrapped with embarrassment, hurt and loneliness. Nothing you’d want your kid to experience. Hunter played football and lost every single game and yet that disappointment pales in comparison to the boy at the race that day.
The pinewood derby was not a race for the boys – it became about who’s dad could make the best car or who had the best connections to have one built or how to cheat without getting caught (evidently the first place winner was disqualified later for illegal wheels or something like that!). If it was really for the boys – they would let the boys create the cars by themselves at an activity and then race them – no need to get the parents involved in the creation of them. The more I thought about the activity, the more frustrated I became. I’m sure part of my frustration was realizing how many of these races are in our future with four boys and I don’t ever want to go to another one. Bah hum bug, right?!
On a lighter note – we asked Hunter what his favorite part was. His response was simple. “Building my car.” He named it “George Franklin” after the George Washington and Benjamin Franklin that were prominently displayed on his car. He didn’t walk away winning many races but he won the “Most Expensive Design” and he was pretty happy about that.