Rethinking The Pinewood Derby

In the past, I’ve expressed complicated feelings regarding Scouts. Last year, with our advent into the program, I was focusing on how it all made me feel… and I was wrong. The truth is, I can have all the ambivalent feelings in the world about Scouts, but it’s not about me- and that’s what I was missing. When I step back and watch my son, really watch him, I see the joy on his face as he holds up the little metallic blue car he worked on all last week with our amazing Home Teacher. That joy is what matters.

The truth is, I cannot provide what he gets from Scouts. I can’t carve a car from balsa wood, drill lead slugs into it, and provide him with a respirator and a spray booth so he can learn to paint properly. But there is a man who can. I don’t want to teach him to throw river rocks into the fire and watch them pop while telling ghost stories and wiping s’mores-covered hands on his camp-filthy shirt. But there are men who will. I cannot be there to help him when the ghost-stories the older boys told cause him to jump at every sound.  But he learns something of tremendous value from the men who are. Because of the men who are willing to love my sons, and take up the slack left by another, my boys are learning things I cannot teach them. They are learning what being a good man looks like, and I am choosing to be grateful there are many men willing to fill that role. These boys need it.

So tonight, we joined a bunch of other families in our church building, and commenced the time-honored ritual of hurling 5 oz. bricks of pine and graphite down the sloping, gravity-fed track in our hall. Brackets were drawn on blackboards, boys lined up and were weighed, siblings pulled on flags and ate popcorn, and the cars raced down the hill.

At the end of the night, several boys stood tall, and even the boys whose cars crashed and burned seemed to have a good attitude and everyone was cheerful and happy and the hall was full of people laughing as we folded up chairs and broke down the track until next time. Bean got to run the giant church vacuum (made his night) and Abby ran in circles. Our Home Teacher was there with Jeffrey the whole night, and even performed pit-duties after Bean accidently dropped the car.

Jeffrey came in second place, and has been advanced to regionals on Saturday. It wasn’t until I saw the look on his face and watched him literally jump for joy that I understood what this meant to him. He ran to me and hugged me tightly, twirled in a delighted circle, and ran off- eyes sparkling, cheeks bright pink, and full of pride. And with that, mama steps back and learns to love yet another child in the way he needs.

18 thoughts on “Rethinking The Pinewood Derby

  1. Regionals? Cool. We don’t have those. Can’t wait for the update!

    You have hit the nail on the head, it is all about each boy.

  2. Thank HEAVEN for dedicated home teachers – truly a good man and what a great example for your boys. So glad Jeffrey had such a good experience, he will remember all his life!

  3. I hate the pine wood derby. Take the look of pride and reverse it when your kid’s car comes in DEAD LAST. Our is on Tuesday. Sigh.

    Your home teacher rocks, though.

  4. My dad always said the Pinewood Derby was where one boy was happy and eleven boys were crying. Glad that wasn’t your experience! It makes me dread 8 years from now a very little less.

  5. That one boy crying is part of what my post last year was about- and part of my still-reticence. However, at ours last night, there were no boys crying, and a lot of really supportive adults who cheered for everyone- it was the best it could have been.

    I’m still not a fan- but I’m trying to step-back and allow my son to get what he needs, despite my personal feelings. It’s a work in process, and we’ll see how it goes.

  6. We’ll be running our Pinewood Derby tonight (I’m Cubmaster in our ward). There are a few things we’ve changed over the years to make it less competitive and fun for everyone, but then you have to strike a balance–if it’s not truly a competition (that is, if there really aren’t winners and losers), then unfortunately much of the fun drains away. The way we’ve come up with is to announce winners, but not give them prizes for anything–the prizes go to best decorated, strangest decoration, most like a rocket ship, most awesome crack-up, most consistent time, things like that. Crazy awards that we’ll all cheer for, to balance out the deadly earnestness with which some of these engineers’ kids come into the race.

  7. One of my fondest memories of being a cubmaster was seeing a car, which was clearly built and painted by the boy and not his dad, place highly in the speed rankings. We always gave a bunch of peripheral prizes not linked to the speed competition, and everyone seemed to go away content to have had a fun time.

  8. Your oldest is 9 and my youngest is 8, and yet I continue to learn from you how to love and nurture my kids in the way THEY need it, not how I need it.

    Kudos to the wonderful men who help teach the entire “village.”

  9. My son came in 2nd place his 2nd year. The moms coming up with the certificates for “Most……” were so happy he was 2nd because they racked their brains trying to come up with any sort of award for his based on looks and couldn’t come up with anything! So since he was 2nd place they could put that.
    He was happy even though he consistantly beat the 1st place winner in the after races.
    The following year he didn’t make a car. I guess twice was enough. He raced an old car so it didn’t do well. He had a great time though. He ran along with the car, making sound effects.
    It was fun for him every year.

  10. We don’t have regionals. Just our ward and that’s fine. Holy cow! That track is seriously steep! We’re trying a new race spreadsheet this year. The way it’s set up, no one gets eliminated early and then has to sit out the evening. Everybody gets to race a lot and no one will know who wins until it’s over. We’re dividing the speed awards by den as well so there will be more than one first place. That’s awesome your son has a great home teacher. My co-den leader and I find ourselves trying to substitute for a couple of absent fathers and it is hard.

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