Ahh… not only is spring around the corner, it’s Pinewood Derby time. The Pinewood Derby is a racing event for Cub Scouts in the Boy Scouts. Cub Scouts, with the help of parents, build their own cars from wood, usually from kits that contain a block of pine, plastic wheels and metal axles. Truth be told, I didn’t know what the derby was until last year when my son joined the Cub Scouts.
The derby came right at a time when my husband began a 2-month patrol. If you ask me (and him), horrible timing. I panicked. I have no clue how to build things, let alone build things that are suppose to move. A neighbor offered to have my son build his car with their son. At first it sounded appealing but after a lot thinking I knew this was a project my son and I needed to tackle on our own, even if dad wasn’t around. In the end, we did it! My son and I built a derby car!
At one point in the building phase I considered making a Facebook status that said, “who needs a man when a tool-deficient mom can do this?” But I quickly remembered the kind old man at Lowe’s who quickly showed me how to operate my dremel tool in 10 seconds (I tried for hours at home and couldn’t figure it out). I remembered the YouTube video (featuring a man) showing me how I’ll sand and polish the wheels. Last, but not least, I remembered the numerous emails back and forth to my husband asking his advice. And, most importantly, I reminded myself that this project was not about me, but about my son. About us working together. So, instead, I kept my lips sealed.
You see the whole idea of the Pinewood Derby is to encourage a bond between a boy and his parent/guardian. They should work together. And, yes, they should build a car that looks cool and goes fast. But the overall focus should be on fun and growth. Right?!?! At least that’s what I think. However, I get the distinct impression that the derby is more about dad’s flexing their muscles desperately attempting to out race every other grown man.
I have worked hard with my son. My son drew his design and was very adamant that his design was “the one”. When it came time to saw I did the work. But he helped sand and he painted. He guided me every step of the way, down to the “x marks the spot” carving he wanted on his car. It truly was a project he was 100% involved in and had 100% input.
These past few days have been an overflow of emotions. I’ve broken down in tears three times… all over this damn derby car.
It all began when a fellow parent posted pictures of his son’s derby on a social media site. Looking at the car I immediately knew it was a car completely made by the parent. As I looked at that car the only thing I could think of was how much my son will be disappointed because his car didn’t look as “cool”. I began to obsess at how I could just do something to make his car better. And as awful as it sounds, I even contemplated buying a car on eBay. Thank goodness for my husband and my wonderful kids. They quickly snapped me out of this horrible funk. However, it led me to do some research and reading on the whole concept of competitive parenting, parents taking on their children’s assignments as their own.
Did you know that a recent study found that up to 70% of kids will plagiarize, cheat and pass off others works as their own before they graduate college? The study suggested that kids are under greater pressure than ever before to succeed, and that they have a greater number of daily stressors than any other generation. It’s a tough world out there, I get that, but does this mean parents need to start doing their children’s work for them? Don’t you think that by doing more for our kids we are actually doing less, creating the inability to learn about life’s lessons on their own?
This derby has inspired me to create a rule in our house: Projects will be done by our kids. My husband and I buy materials, advise and even make suggestions. We encourage the kids and guide them but we also make sure they take ownership of the project/task. They need to learn how to develop skills to complete a project from beginning to end. This new rule came at a time when my daughter was also assigned a project in school. Sh needed to create a poster on why our family loves Maine. It was a family project. My daughter insisted I come up with all the reasons why we love Maine. I helped, but I left the rest to her. And guess what? She came up with the best reason why our family loves Maine, on her own!
Whether it’s a derby car or some other project, when parents give their children sufficient guidance and freedom to let their imaginations soar (without imposing their own viewpoints or worse, taking over entire projects) we give our kids the confidence and self satisfaction that helps them grow into secure, assertive adults.
I like to think I chose the high road on this one. Was I tempted to cheat after seeing all of those pictures of glossy pieces of wood and glue? Hell yes I was, but I didn’t.
We did this together and made the most of what we have, time and love.
And that is what I love the idea of living simply, and the whole homesteading movement. I think perhaps Robert Frost was right. Choosing the road less traveled may very well make all the difference in the world.
**At the completion of writing this blog I came across a movie on Netflix, “Down & Derby”. It’s a comedy that satirizes the desperate behavior of parents who compete with one another through their children. It was a hoot to watch… and made me thankful I never went off the deep end.
**To read Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” click here.