Thursday, September 20, 2007

“Mistakes were made”

I love the way politicians invoke the passive voice when they want to apologize for an indiscretion while simultaneously implying that they had little to do with it. Mistakes were made. I may have, in fact, been in another state when it happened; if you’ll give me a minute to check my appointment book I’ll verify, but in the meantime, I am deeply sorry for whatever it was.

I wish I had some invincible excuse for my behavior last night at the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby. I wish I could say I was at my ranch in Montana at the time and so I could not possibly have been that blonde woman who totally lost her cool when she saw her son (who had spent DAYS working on his little wooden firetruck only to see it eliminated in the first round of the competition) wind up disappointed and hurt. I wish I could say that I’m on some kind of prescription medication that makes me irrational and liable to walk right up to the person in charge (we’ll just call her “Sally”) and tell her what I think of her decision to change the way the Pinewood Derby has been run in the past—from “everybody races everybody else and has fun” to “we must have ONE winner so we’ll embrace the NBA model and eliminate the losers one by one even if it means some kids get one turn down the track and others get 15.” I wish I could say my upbringing at the Kennedy mansion has regrettably given me a hot head, a temper easily sparked by rumors of missiles in Cuba or maybe infuriating ladies like Sally who see the graphite-streaked tears on my son’s face and then point to the sign that says “Sportsmanship” above the narrowing brackets of the elimination chart, and ask him sharply, “What part of that word don’t you understand?”

Well I was there. I have no ranch in Montana. And I must admit that if mistakes were made, I was the mistaker. I regret the whole thing, not because I shouldn’t have said anything, but because I should have handled it far differently (like in writing the next day, for example). Instead, I wound up making McKay feel even worse by embarrassing him. And I made myself look stupid. And, frankly, I should have known better. I have known Sally for several years and, in moments of sweet rationality, I am completely aware that Sally and I may live a few houses away from each other, but we come from two entirely different planets. She comes from the “PE teachers who quote Harvard studies which prove that children need competition or they will fail in the workforce” planet. I come from the “Moms who feel that competition trains children to see other children as rivals and squashes their natural gift of empathy and all those external rewards like prizes, trophies, and titles of victory don’t encourage appropriate kinds of internal motivation and I want to see a copy of that “Harvard study” you like to quote because if the workforce is learning anything it’s that models of creativity and cooperation produce far better results and if you don’t believe me just look at Pixar and good grief they’re only a bunch of CUB SCOUTS!” planet.

My planet is right and hers is wrong, of course, but that doesn’t change the fact that when planets collide, it may not be the best thing for a little boy with an adorable hand-made Pinewood Derby car that looks like a firetruck (with a matchstick ladder!) and a very soft heart. And so for that, I am deeply sorry.

18 comments:

Jennifer B. said...

So sorry for your little guy. Your reaction just shows how much you care for him.

In case it might matter for the future--Our derby has a winner but is raced in heats. All cars race three times and on a different track each time. The cars are grouped by speed for the second and third heats. That way the races are close and everyone has a good chance of winning at least one race.


Too bad there wasn't a sign you could point to that said "TACT" "SENSITIVITY" or "EMPATHY". Clearly, those words were not very well understood.

crissybug said...

His car is adorable! It is understandable how you reacted...I probably would have done the same thing, and then felt the same remorse the next day.

Hopefully your little guy won't be afraid to participate in it next year!

~*Country Dawn*~ said...

Harvard studies are way overrated! :x You may have embarrassed him, but some day he'll remember how much love was behind your words. :)

Heffalump said...

Pinewood Derby....Aaarrrrgh! Our pinewood Derby was the everyone races everyone, but they still kept track and there was still an overall winner. I can deal with that, but they gave the top three boys a 14 oz bag of M&Ms and the other boys all got a single sized candy. What bugged me is that two of the top three boys were losing for the first half until an adult tweaked and graphited their cars in the middle of the evening. He did not graphite any of the other cars...
I guess what really bothered me is not that they won, but that they were given a larger prize. I think it should have been enough that they got a certificate and the same snack sized thing as everyone else. My boys felt bad that their cars (that they did most of the work on) didn't do better, but mostly because they would have liked the M&Ms and I just think that is a poor attitude to foster among young boys.
I think that Sally needs to learn that there is a difference between a healthy competition and grinding down a kid's self esteem.

Gill said...

I'm so sorry your little guy got his feelings hurt. My take on this type of competition in that age group is that instead of building kids up it breaks them down.

Anonymous said...

Good heavens! Don't regret that your son had an exceptional learning experience. How many important things have you learned in your life by being told, versus how many have been beaten in to you by life's rocky road? How else will your son learn the difference between a program and inspired truth? The Pinewood Derby isn't part of the gospel, it's part of the program. The fact that there are problems with this particular program should serve to contrast that difference and increase your son's appreciation for gospel truths. Don't apologize for something that may turn out to be a wonderful life lesson for your son. Not loving your neighbor as yourself may be something to apologize for, but really you should be thanking her. This simply justifies your boycott of all future Pinewood Derbys. You'll never have to build another car. And if you need any more M&Ms, just buy him a bag and tell him you love him - there are no bad reasons to give M&Ms or love.

Good luck,
Nathan

Lucy van Pelt said...

That is such a great pinewood derby car! McKay should be very proud. The matchstick ladder is the best.

Julie Pippert said...

Aw, that is so tough, though. The Mama Bear comes out every now and again, and although he feels embarrassed, trust me, thinking his mom won't come out of the corner for him feels much, much worse. Trust me, I know. Hopefully Sally or one of her ilk won't be in that position next year, and your son finds the pleasure he had in his car (so great!) again.

Julie
Using My Words

Heffalump said...

CONGRATULATIONS! I just saw that you won the Write Away Contest this month! Yipee for you!

Geo said...

Aw, I love his little firetruck.

Keep up the good mothering and good politicking.

I know that Pixar is true.

My Ice Cream Diary said...

Well, if there had been a prize for cutest car he would have won. Honestly, I have always thought derby cars were ugly but his totally rocks!

Luisa Perkins said...

Oh, Julie. I feel your pain. It's a great pinewood derby car. And I should know.

Theresa Bakker said...

Julie,
You are blowing my mind with your fabulous blog. What a writer. And a teacher. I'm learning just from being exposed to you. Glad I found you at Scribbit. And I'm glad you like blogging again.
Theresa
PS Love the car.

Kimberly said...

If it's any comfort, at least you were right. Maybe not in your form of expression, but you were right.

Goslyn said...

Ohhhh, I don't even know Sally, and the momma bear in me is ready to take her on.

Hugs to McKay, and to you, Momma J. It's ok.

Oh, now my blood pressure's all up. Grrr.

K T Cat said...

When loving your child enough to want to give opportunities to have fun and experience competition becomes a failing then the world will be a poorer place.

Tact may have left you temporarily, but love and compassion did not.

Jenna said...

Darn it. It's a darling firetruck. I knew what it was right away. I've been the one regretting my reaction SO many times, so I can feel your pain.

The Lazy Organizer said...

I think you did the right thing. Especially since it helps me feel better about all the times I lose my head publicly. Although even the private head-losings are embarrassing too. Now I know I'm not alone.

And yes, the car is magnificent. Love all the details!