There are certain times in the course of my marriage when I’m particularly grateful to have wed an engineer. Like when the minivan needs to be packed with Jenga-like precision for a family road trip. Or when something goes inexplicably wrong with the cable box.
Or when a Cub Scout leader hands your six year-old a plain block of wood and expects him to transform it into a piece of precision-driven German auto engineering.
Hi, my name is Kim and I was, until recently, a Pinewood Derby virgin.
Now that my family has come out the other side of this, I would like to share my naiveté with others. Because, if I can save just one other mom from the shock I experienced, then my time on this Earth will never have been in vain.
Let’s start at the beginning.
I’ll admit that I had all kinds of misconceptions about this activity, right from the get go. I had no idea that the kids were handed this.
A block of wood and a dream, basically. And, hopefully, access to the Internet.
I’m exaggerating. There were also four wheels and four nails. Because, obviously, now it’s a walk in the park.
What the hell? How is a six year-old supposed to make Fahrvergnugen out of this?
Enter the dads.
My husband is a former Cub Scout. He looks back fondly on his own Pinewood Derby experiences of his youth. Except for the part when he was robbed of what was rightfully his win, or something like that. I wasn’t really listening. Anyway, his PDerby credentials coupled with his adulthood engineering background really added up to one thing:
I would not have to get involved in building this fucking thing one bit.
Two things, actually: This blog post would practically write itself. I’m not even pressing on the keyboard right now. Because, really, you can’t ask for better material. It was like bringing a reality show into my home every night in the highest possible definition.
So I sat back with my popcorn (I mean, my wine) and watched.
My husband is meticulous by nature. But he’s also a rule follower and a great parent. So his soul was in an epic battle with itself over helping our son create the best possible car and letting him do the majority of the project himself.
And so it began with the design concept, spearheaded by our son. This was his vision.
He listed fire and jets as his inspiration, although I didn’t have the heart to tell him that true artists are often misunderstood when their work is first unveiled.
To bring this to life, my husband was missing two things from his PDerby background of the 1970s:
1) A Guy. Apparently, everyone now has A Guy. Someone who recently went through this for the first time and can offer tips and insider information. Our Guy was our neighbor. His son won the Derby for his pack and went on to clean up at the district competition too. He was the Yoda to our Luke.
2) YouTube. OMG. The tutorials. The analysis. What is the most effective way to add weight to the car (back or front)? Should you polish the axels to reduce friction? If so, how much? What shape should the car be? And, did we pick the wrong week to quit sniffing glue? Because this is insanity.
And so, I watched the father/son duo take over my dining room table for two weeks. Sawing and sanding and prepping the wheels and painting and re-reading the rules and weighing the vehicle and watching YouTube and eating all of the Entenmann’s in the house. It looked a lot like the times when my husband used to assemble furniture we purchased from IKEA. Like the Muutherfukker Deluks collection.
My husband restrained himself with the PDerby car. He kept it low-key. He suppressed his meticulous gene and kept it all decidedly first grade.
And they created this. Our son dubbed it Speedy.
Not quite the spitting image of the initial design concept, but hey, it was shiny. And done on time.
And then the big day was here.
The cars were lined up. They ranged from basic to brilliant. The dads circled and checked out everyone’s handiwork. They exchanged casual-yet-need-to-know tips about their thought processes and techniques.
When it was time for Speedy’s first race, I had no idea how it was going to go down. And then, he won that round.
And the next.
And the next.
And the next.
Everyone cheered. My son was beside himself with excitement. My husband stood back, relaxed and confident. They had done their research. The engineering gene was being passed on before my eyes.
Thank goodness, because my son’s alternative was to end up more like me, with zero capacity for engineering anything. Then he’d face a childhood filled with frustration over the Rubik’s Cube, followed by an adulthood fraught with how exactly to get the Tupperware to fit into stacks with their matching lids in a drawer. Isn’t it just easier to throw all of them in there randomly and then rely on aluminum foil for leftovers?
But back to Speedy.
His run was great. He was undefeated for a while. Until he wasn’t.
It was 2nd place for Speedy in the Tiger Cub den. And so we were invited to race against the top racers in the whole pack, where Speedy again took a fabulous 2nd.
Our son was thrilled, as was his in-house pit crew. I’m not sure how our daughter is going to settle for selling cookies in Daisy Scouts next year after watching this effort unfold. But at least I have a family who can now fluently translate IKEA assembly instructions.
And in the end, we didn’t need first place. We had Fahrvergnugen.