Saturday, February 25, 2012

From the Archives

On the eve of our 8th Pinewood Derby -- amidst a growing pile of sawdust and with a vapor of metallic spray paint wafting through the house -- I repost a recap of a derby two years back.

A Derby to Remember

We raced in our sixth Pinewood Derby this morning. Over the years we’ve built a lot of cars, and we’ve built a lot of character. At the moment, I’m tired on both accounts.

We’ve engineered tug boats and rockets, fire engines and tanks. We’ve been up into the wee hours of race day adding fins or turrets or stickers. We’ve been found, hair-dryer in hand, finishing a paint job minutes before the checkered flag (or whatever) flies.

We’ve spent a pretty penny on these jobbies. Base price: $4.99. Purchasing a new Dremel on the eve of the race will set you back another $60.00. Then there’s the ultra-accurate scale for $19.99 plus shipping. Reminds me of camping. Every year is pretty much the same.

Today’s race, however, was a first.

I show up a few minutes into Kolbe’s race to meet a grim-faced Dave.

I get the verdict: The weight of Kolbe’s car is pushing the wheels into the wheel wells. His car is slow. Painfully slow.

I plunk myself down track-side to hear the dad behind me quip, “We just come to watch the meltdowns.” He’s a father with five boys and a good sense of humor. He's been there, done that. I give him a friendly slug and tell him to be quiet already – this year it’s my son facing drama at the derby.

Kolbe loses every heat. In point of fact, he comes in dead last in every heat. We dry a few tears and give the standard pep talk.

All this is hard. Because parenting is hard. Because being a competitive person turned parent is even harder. I have laughed about this with my friends over the years. Oh, we put a good face on it. We say the right things and encourage the correct responses. We’re building character, by golly! But at a certain point – character schmaracter – we just want our kid to win. We maintain a thin veneer of civility, but scratch the surface and you find a Hollywood stage mom.

We get to the awards. A little time and a bowl of junk food leave Kolbe downright jovial. The Cub master calls the awards for Kolbe’s den.

“And second place …Kolbe!”


Kolbe collects his trophy and makes a joke about it. Dave has a chat with the Cub master as the tournament of champions finishes up. The Cub master calls Kolbe forward.

"I asked Kolbe how I could make this right," the Cub master shares. "Kolbe said he'd be happy to take the first place trophy, or he'd settle for ten bucks."

That's my boy. We laugh and applaud Kolbe being Kolbe.

The Cub master calls up the actual second place winner, Kolbe’s good pal, Daelyn. Kolbe hands over the trophy. Daelyn’s dad, a kind man and a class act, makes a point to share a few words of encouragement with Dave and me. All is right with the Derby world.

After the race I putter around in the kitchen and overhear Kolbe talking to his dad.

“I had a great time at the Pinewood Derby today, Dad,” he says. I want to cry. Maybe there’s something to this character schmaracter.

I vacuum up sawdust. Dave boxes up the Dremel. We put paints, sandpaper, brushes, and decals into the storage room to race another day.

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