January 27, 2006

Kudos to the Organizers

Last night, the annual "pinewood derby" was run for our local Cub Scout pack. It's one of the two events my scout loves each year, though his dad (me) has woeful woodworking skill. Actually, it's not the lack of skill but rather the lack of patience. When I think of all the things I could be doing on a Saturday afternoon, spending hours and hours perfecting a little, wooden car is not really near the top of the list. In fact, I would say it falls slightly below "laundry" and "mowing the lawn."

Last year's race was a tremendous success for us. We created an inspired design of the USS Hornet that won a "most original design" trophy. The quality of the woodworking was questionable at best, and it was slow as a snail compared to the fast cars, but there he was, up on stage receiving a trophy.

This year, I felt it important to have a discussion about expectations.

By the end of the race night, we had achieved our goal of getting a 2nd place run in one of the heats, and we never finished lower than 4th, but still the car (a tugboat design) was, shall we say, less than speedy. Tugs are not designed for speed, after all. And, looking at the other designs, and knowing that he'd won a trophy for design the previous year, we were not expecting much.

My hat, however, is off to the organizing committee. In addition to the trophies, they awarded certificates to all the other boys who entered cars. Ours was, by luck, the very last one to be awarded, for "Best Maritime Design." Other awards included "Most Heavily Armed" (for a tank car), "Most Likely to Pull Someone Over" (for a police car), and "Best Use of Hardware" (for another police car with real lights that blinked).

The transformation simply amazed me. The last half hour of the night, E was desperate to go home, knowing he wasn't going to win anything. He was frustrated, tired, disappointed, bored. Then, he walked up on stage, shook hands with the race official, and got his certificate. As we walked out of the venue, he was all smiles and showed me his certificate. He asked, "Can we frame this?"

Right before bed, he got out last year's car and last year's trophy and lined them up next to this year's car and this year's certificate right near his bedroom door, so he would see them right when he woke up. What magic a simple thing like a certificate can bring to a little boy's life.

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