This week my oldest son took part in his last Pinewood Derby race. For those unfamiliar with the Boy Scout program, the Pinewood Derby is a challenge done in the Cub Scout years (Boys from 8-10) where a small car is cut out from a block of pine and raced down a track.
Now I might as well be upfront with you and let you know this race is my least favorite thing about the Cub Scout program. And it’s not because I don’t like competition— please, I live and breathe on the stuff—it’s because the cars are supposed to be made by the boys but very few of them are. You have grown men, fathers, carefully plotting their designs for perfect balance and aerodynamics. Doing all they can to dominate this race, and beat the man standing next to them in the gym. Seeing the over-the-top creations they bring, I doubt most of the boys even touched the block of wood. This is something my husband and I refuse to do. It called the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby not the “Daddy” Pinewood Derby.
Every year, my son designed the car he submitted for the race, and it looked like it. The paint jobs weren’t perfect and they were far from aerodynamic, but they were his. I was proud of that. But unfortunately, every year he lost. In fact, he had never won a race.
This year he planned for weeks—drawing up dozens of possibilities. “I just need to win one race,” he told me as we readied to leave our house the night of the Derby.
“I’m sure you will,” I reassured him as every mom does. But, I was wrong. Like a one-two knockout punch, he lost both of his double elimination races that night.
After the second one, he ran from the gym. I chased him into the hall, ready with my consoling-mommy-words-of-comfort, but like catching the tail of a viper, he turned on me and struck.
“Just one race,” he said with bitter tears running down his face. “If you would have made my car, I could have won one race.”
The fangs of his words pierced my heart. As a parent, we want our children to be happy. Yet, here he was accusing me of intentionally sabotaging him. In that moment, I wanted to march back into the gym and smack the crap out of every father hovering over the racetrack. But it would have been a waste of energy, they do not believe making the cars for their sons is wrong. And I couldn’t tell my son the race didn’t matter, because to him it had, it’s why he was there.
I swallowed the lump in my throat and put my arm around my son. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe if Daddy and I had made your car it might have won a race, but you still wouldn’t have won anything, because the car wouldn’t have been yours. I know loosing sucks…” sucks so bad, it’s the suckiest thing we experience in life if you ask me “…But win or lose what really matters is the how. You did it right. You played by the rules. That’s the most important part.” Though, sometimes, it’s the hardest lesson to accept when all you’re asking for is ‘Just one race’—even for me.
Look, you’re right, you shouldn’t build the car for him, but next year google some easy tips you can mention like lubricant for the axle and simple principles of physics like inertia and acceleration. Honestly, my son built his own car but we applied some science and mechanics together and both learned a lot; even about each other.
His car did well and he even came up with ideas to make it better next time. I’m all too familiar with the “it’s not winning but how you play the game” crap, but if I’m contending I’m figuring out how to win; just shy of the “ends justify the means.”
Agree or not, sometimes the hare does win the race.