So some of you might remember a post I wrote on another blogging site last year after our youngest son’s first pinewood derby. You can find that post here, in case you’re just dying to read all about a little boy’s broken heart.
Yeah, Tom was convinced his car was going to TAKE…IT…ALLL, BABY!! And, of course, it didn’t. Didn’t really even place in any heat, if I recall. And Tom put on his brave face until we got home, at which time the floodgates opened and tore a big hole in my maternal heart. He cried, I cried, we both hyperventilated.
Once the tears dried, the hubs and I vowed that this year, he’d do better because we, his educated but somewhat mechanically inept parents, would enlist help.
And then January came around, and suddenly the Cub Scout pack’s pinewood workshop was upon us, and my little guy and the hubs cut out the car with little thought to aesthetics or design or anything. They just came up with a design on the fly. And then they forgot about it until the end of February.
This year’s derby was March 19. On March 1, I was in the hospital, with lots of time to contemplate the future. And I asked Matt if he’d talked with Andy, our brother-in-law who’s also an engineer, for any advice. He hemmed and hawed and pulled out the Blackberry and emailed Andy. I also suggested he talk to some of his friends, like Donovan, a father of three boys and one girl who designs the coolest pinewood cars EVAH every year. Donovan takes his, er, his boys’ cars on the Scout overnights and sands wheels and what have you.
Um, no. He didn’t talk with Donovan, except at the pinewood workshop, where Donovan suggested that Tom might want to put a cockpit on his car because it would be cool.
Periodically, I inquired as to the pinewood car’s progress. They had a name: Rocket Man II, named after last year’s car, Rocket Man. It would be black. That was about it.
The week of the derby, Matt asked me to go buy some decals for the car. I found some at Hobby Lobby, where I also discovered a whole aisle dedicated to pinewood cars. Overstimulation. There were cool bodies, axels, weights, little guys to stick in the driver’s seat, etc. I just found some decals appropriate for a rocket, but I told Matt all about the magic aisle. He said the stuff that came in the pinewood kit was good enough.
The day before the race dawned, and Rocket Man II did not have any wheels yet. Tom wasn’t worried, but I was nervous. Matt assured me he knew how to put the wheels on. Sure, I thought, you know how. But do you know how to make sure they’re fast as greased lightning?
That evening, our other brother-in-law, Mike, stopped by. I was harping about the pinewood car, and Matt told Mike I was pressuring him, that I was too involved in my kid’s car. So I asked Mike his winning secret, since his son had won his pinewood derby. He gave us a few tips.
It was 9 p.m., and the wheels still weren’t on. I was sitting at the kitchen table, using my laptop, while Matt painstakingly sanded each wheel nail. I asked what he was doing.
“I’m trying to get the grooves out,” he said, rubbing a tiny sliver of sandpaper along the nail. “Donovan did this last month at the overnight with his dremel.”
I threw my hands into the air. “For crying out loud, Andy has a dremel,” I said. “Go borrow it, for Christ’s sake. This is pitiful.”
Then he looked at me, and I saw the pain in his eyes. “Did I ever tell you about my first pinewood derby?” he asked. I shook my head.
Then he told me how he built his first pinewood car on his parents’ back stoop, all by himself. He didn’t know to ask for help. His dad wasn’t too mechanical, and it never occurred to him to ask his mom or his grandpa, a woodworker. He found some sort of handsaw in his parents’ garage and used that to cut out the car. He didn’t know about sandpaper or dremels or what have you. He painted the car using gray porch paint and orange paint leftover from the trim in his bedroom. Then he proudly took his car to the derby.
“The car couldn’t even make it to the end of the track,” he said. “And no one’s dad offered to help me. They all worked at the Ford plant. My dad came to meetings in his suit and tie. I think they just didn’t want to help a kid like me.”
He kept sanding the nail and went on. “So the next year, Uncle Pat helped me,” he said. Uncle Pat is an architect. Aha! I thought. Success.
“We made the Super Shark. It was sleek,” he said. “Which just goes to show you that it doesn’t matter how the car looks because that one didn’t make it to the end of the track, either.”
I wasn’t sure where he was going with this, but I was starting to realize why he didn’t want to ask for any help this time around, either. Except this wasn’t his car – this was Tom’s.
Didn’t he want his kiddo to fare better than he did?
The next day, Tom and Matt took Rocket Man II to the derby. I arrived just before the race started and found myself the butt of many jokes amongst the dads in Tom’s den. Matt had told them I was pressuring him to help Tom make a car that could win it all.
He didn’t need to win it all. But I was hoping he’d at least show up for the race so we could avoid a night of woe like last year.
And I’m happy to say Tom’s car placed first in his heat, although seventh overall in his den. No tears that night – from him or me. And Matt’s put his pinewood demons behind him for another year.