The Race

I was helping my daughter put together her pinewood derby car for Girl Scouts. We were laying on our stomachs lining up the nail to go through the tire at the exact right angle. As I was explaining why it was important to make sure the tire doesn’t rub the wood she surprised me with this:

“Daddy, relax. This isn’t a winning car.”

Wait. What?

Why make a pinewood derby car and race a pinewood derby race if you’re not planning on winning the pinewood derby race?

We’ve gone to these races 2 years in a row and Evaline finished somewhere in the back of the pack both times. Still, she makes us go. She cheers. She gets excited.

I thought about her cars in years past: Mr. Pickle and Mr. Pickle 2 – green bulky things with dots painted on for pickle bumps. They barely rolled straight.

And now, Mrs. Squeakers, a grey wedge with wire whiskers that loop up and out, in the most un-aerodynamic way possible, a tail curling up that was supposed to hold a chunk of felted cheese but we had to opt out of that one because it went against the rules.

I was deep in thought, holding the nail. She, with the hammer, reading my mind, She sat up, held Mrs. Squeakers in the palm of her hand, and spoke with the unshakably confident vernacular of Beyonce:

“She so pretty. She so fine.”

And then it clicked.

Her awards the last 2 years: most creative and most jazzy (or something like that). I thought they were consolation prizes, made-up certificates to ensure that everybody wins and no one cries.

Awards that don’t count.

But who decides? And who wears the crown?

Our tire went in crooked. When it spun, it rubbed the wood. Mrs. Squeakers was destined to be slow.

But my daughter held it up, big smile, then a quizzical look as she wiggled a whisker.

“I need some more hot glue.

And off to her room.

Queen Evaline.

… reminding me that the best victories come when we set our own benchmarks.

And the real winners are the ones who can cheer for their creations and cross their own finish lines in ways that others don’t understand.