It's Pinewood Derby time with the Cub Scouts, where Scouts are given a little block of wood, four tires, and then told to build something that goes vroom. I have to say I wasn't happy when the den leader handed us this little derby kit. You see, the Ijames family has had experience with derby cars before and it isn't a pretty tale. This will be our third car, the first two done through my kids' Awana program at their church.
We first participated when my eldest was 4, and since we couldn't trust him with a pencil, my husband and I knew this project would fall squarely upon us. Well ... the husband. I'm totally useless in this regard. I mean, my idea of "building" the car involved a mallet to the front and back to round out the edges, and then using a pair of chicken tongs to dip the car into a can of paint. Presto! Done.
Since my husband had more grandiose ideas about design, color and aerodynamics, I christened him the Master Commander and he got busy. Three weeks later, using only a handheld wood chisel, he made an exact replica of Lightning McQueen from Disney Pixar's "Cars." He even had our DVD copy of the movie on freeze frame to make the car as accurate as possible, including McQueen's exerted tongue flapping in the wind. It truly was a work of art. Pixar, themselves, would've wanted it as a prototype.
Then, the derby race. Daddy's entry, I mean my son's, didn't make it past the second round but Daddy, I mean my son, had high hopes the car would win best design. I did, too, for that matter because the rest of the entries looked junky. Like little kids had made them.
Lo and behold, our Lightning McQueen didn't place. It didn't even get one of those piddly honorable mentions. Daddy was not happy. I can't recall how he had managed it, but within a matter of minutes he had tracked down a judge and began his questions regarding judging standards. This was a little old lady church volunteer, mind you, but Charles was still operating on a sleep deficit and not his typical self, having spent the four prior nights alone fashioning that flapping tongue.
She kindly smiled at Charles and said, "Well, that was a very impressive entry, but it didn't place because we could tell that a daddy did it, and not a child."
To which Charles replied, "So, if I made it uglier, I might have won?"
"You mean your son might have won?" She corrected.
That's where I stepped in and pulled him away. I tried to comfort him by falsely agreeing that it was silly to give children a handicap for having feeble hands and what not, but little good it did. He was still upset.
A year later, I decided to circumnavigate my husband's feelings over Awana Judging-gate and let professional woodcutters at the Awana store cut the car, leaving the painting to my son. (I still would've used the mallet and the chicken tongs.) When my husband saw that year's final product, he said it was definitely crude enough to win something.
Turns out that with the new car, my son placed second in the racing category, but again failed in best design. The winners? My, oh my, the judging panel must've developed new standards. You could almost see the daddy hours still sweating off the derby cars that won in best design. First place was a hand-chiseled toolbox, a replica from Disney's "Handy Manny." The tools were standing up and nearly dancing. They had bulbous eyes and flapping tongues, too. I assumed giving handicaps to children for being children was a thing of the past.
Thank goodness I saw the picks first. When Charles wanted to see what had won, I knew I had to divert him. "Hurry, quick! The house is on fire, let's go." He never did see the winners.
I guess I should cut to the chase here and let everyone know that Charles spent his last day off from work fashioning our son's derby car for Cub Scouts. He had an electric ... something ... that seemed to make the process go faster, so I guess he can't get upset over wasting three weeks this time around. He and my son went to the store to pick out colors and I can tell my son is excited to do the painting.
Should I tell him now or later that Daddy will inevitably take over the painting, too? I hope my son, I mean Daddy, gets a win this year.
-- Heather Ijames is one of three community columnists whose work appears here every Saturday. These are the opinions of Ijames, not necessarily The Californian. Send email to her at email@example.com. Next week: Inga Barks.