That time of year is here again, the mid-winter companion of NFL playoff games and college hoops and the bane of fathers everywhere, the Pinewood Derby. The time when fathers with a clue have to fight to not overtake the project – or not so much – and fathers without a clue roll their eyes and prepare for a long, l-o-o-o-n-g weekend. But this year’s different since it’s Youngest’s last Pinewood and it will be the last of ten consecutive years for which the PracticalDad household has had an entry. It’s also the last for me since I’ve been overseeing the efforts of multiple fathers to set up the track – replete with laser-tripped starter and finish lines and dedicated PC with racing software.
The same question exists this year as before, whether Youngest can win the prize for slowest car and it simply reinforces the surreality of the situation: has he won if he loses or will he fail if he wins? I’m fortunate though, in that he’s not thinking now in terms of sheer losing but producing a car that reflects his slightly goofy sense of humor. With luck, there’ll be a universe of two different trophies that he can win, Most Fuel Efficient or Funniest Car.
So the next week is going to be consumed with preparations for the race day – assuring that the software works and that the equipment is up to snuff, that the process is in place for the weigh-in of the cars and that we have enough volunteers in place to manage the process, and that the trophies are completed in a timely and good-looking fashion. The food will be left up to someone else entirely. But the hardest work will be with Youngest, helping him through the process of creating a decent car without actually taking over the hands-on aspects themselves and that will be more mental, ascertaining in advance what questions have to be asked that can lead him to decisions on how to proceed.
Some months ago, I chatted with a mother at the store; this woman had also spent ten years as a cub scout leader for her two sons. I asked whether she missed it, the meeting preparations and all of the background work that came with being a volunteer for a kid’s organization. She responded that yes, I actually do miss it. In the aftermath, you forget the headaches and time spent, the misbehavior and the sheer lunacy that can result from children gathering together for events. When the next weekend’s Derby is finished, I suppose that I’ll also miss it and everything that it entails.
But not quite yet.