Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Painting Pumpkins After Dark

I didn't want to do it.

We had had a fairly busy Saturday, and I had just plopped myself down on the couch. I would have been fully content to stay there on the couch for the rest of the night. I had the remotes. I had my phone to stare at. I was on the couch and I didn't need (or want) to go anywhere else.

But, my wife had told the kids they could paint their pumpkins, and that's the kind of thing the kids don't forget.

So, there I was, as content on the couch as is possible for a potato, when the kids came to me and said, "Dad, Mom says we have to wash our pumpkins before we can paint them." They didn't directly ask me to do anything. They didn't directly tell me to do anything. And yet, I knew I needed to unpark myself off of the couch and go join the rest of the family in this activity, regardless of my current level of comfort and/or total lack of interest in the project.

It had been a long day, and it was already dark outside, so I turned on the porch light, grabbed some washcloths, and put some water in the mop bucket. I figured the two older kids could wash their own pumpkins, but the two little ones would need me to do it for them, so that's what we did.

It was time to get out the paints, and my wife wisely moved us from the porch to the sidewalk by the driveway, where future rains would make cleaning paint off the cement a bit easier.

And then, the painting began. Much like the cleaning, the two oldest pretty much painted their pumpkins on their own, while the two littles needed help. I didn't help them, my wife did. Instead, I sat there and took pictures. I listened to the giggles and watched the smiles. I sat and enjoyed the time together as a family.

Painting pumpkins after dark!

Our three year-old's favorite artist is Jackson Pollock.
Momma may have helped our youngest a little bit.

When we finished and went inside, I posted some of the pictures on Facebook. Lots of people looked at the pictures and hit the "Like" button or even the "Love" button. And that's when I realized what a doofus I was.

I would have been more than content to have spent the entire evening sitting on the couch, staring at my phone. Instead, I spent time with my family. I had fun with them. We created some memories. Some day my kids might look at those pictures fondly and say, "I remember doing that. That was a fun night!" My kids will never look back fondly and say, "I remember that one night Dad ignored us and stared at his phone."

Of course, none of it would have happened without my wife. She's the one who made sure we got pumpkins for the kids. She's the one who thought painting those pumpkins would be something the kids might enjoy. There wouldn't have been a fun evening of painting pumpkins after dark without her. She's a great mother, and I'm a better father because of her.

Spending time together as a family is a good thing. I'll have to remember that the next time I park myself on the couch.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Is That an Umpire or a Ninja?

I've watched a lot of baseball in my life, and not once had I ever thought about ninjas.

I was downstairs with the kids, watching the World Series. I've never really been much of a baseball fan, but I do enjoy the unpredictability of sports, so I'll often watch the playoffs or World Series.

My two oldest were watching a little bit with me, asking questions about the game. My son would ask, "Did they hit it?" when he heard the sound of the ball whacking into the catcher's mitt. He thought it sounded like a hit. I was trying to explain to them about three strikes and three outs and why they got more than three strikes if they hit foul balls, and some of the other oddities of baseball.

One of the things they weren't understanding very well was how it could be a strike if the batter didn't swing. To someone who has never watched baseball, the strike zone is kind of a hard thing to explain. (A lot of people who play the game don't understand it very well, either.)

After a while they had pretty much lost interest in the game, and were playing at other things. That's why I was more than a bit surprised when my oldest girl angrily yelled at the screen.

She yelled, in a scolding tone, "Ninja! You're not playing!"

It took me a few seconds to figure out what she was saying and who she was saying it to. In the game, the situation was that there were two outs, and there were two strikes on the batter. The pitch went down the middle, but the batter didn't swing. The umpire called the pitch a strike, meaning both the player and his entire team were out for the inning.

When they call a third strike, umpires usually do so with an exaggerated motion, often punching the air with a clenched fist.

This action is what The Girl found so offensive. She saw a "ninja," a man dressed in all black and wearing a mask, inserting himself into the game and throwing punches in the air. "Ninja! You're not playing!" She wanted that ninja to sit down and leave those baseball players alone!

Ninja or Umpire?

Once I figured out what she was saying and why she was saying it, I busted out laughing. I had never before made the connection between baseball umpires and ninjas, but I could see why my daughter would make the mistake. They have a lot of similarities:

Baseball umpires wear all black. Ninjas wear all black. Baseball umpires wear masks. Ninjas often wear masks. Baseball umpires lurk around in the background, usually not wanting to be seen. Ninjas lurk around in the background, not wanting to be seen.

Of course, there are some differences:

Ninjas often carry weapons, like throwing stars or nunchucks. Baseball umpires don't usually wield throwing stars. (At least not that I know of.) Ninjas are usually athletic and quick. Baseball umpires are usually lumbering and often overweight.

Look very closely. Can you spot the ninja?

Still, the similarities are strong enough that I could see why The Girl thought that the umpire was a ninja.

It's probably a sad message on the state of baseball with today's youth that my daughter is much more familiar with ninjas than she is with baseball umpires.

It's also probably not good for ninjas that my daughter knows more about them than she does umpires. One of the trademarks of a ninja is supposed to be their stealth. And yet my daughter knows about as much about ninjas as she does about unicorns. (Ninjas could really use a PR firm that specializes in less publicity.)

So, the next time you see a baseball game, watch out for the ninjas. You never know when they might strike.

Edited from a post originally published on 11/3/2015.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Ogden: The Orlando of Utah!

I've never been to Orlando. It sounds like a magical place with lots of great things to do. Disney World is there. So is the Universal Studios theme park. There's a Sea World in Orlando. And, they even have two Olive Gardens!

Yes, Orlando sounds like a great place. Maybe I'll get there someday.  I have, however, been to the next best thing: Ogden! (It's the Orlando of Utah!)

If you've ever been to Ogden, you probably think I'm joking...and I am--but not completely. Our family genuinely likes vacationing in Ogden! We like it so much we've actually vacationed there twice!!

Ogden: It's sooooo much fun!!!

Why do we like to vacation in Ogden? One word: museums! What Orlando is to theme parks, Ogden is to museums. In fact, I'd say there are more museums in Ogden than there are theme parks in Orlando! (Sadly, the same can't be said for Olive Gardens.) What kind of museums, you ask? Well, there's the Hill Aerospace Museum, the George S. Eccles Dinosaur Park, the Treehouse Children's Museum, and Union Station, which is the home of several more museums, including the Utah State Railroad Museum, the John M. Browning Firearms Museum, the Browning-Kimball Classic Car Museum, and the Utah Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. (That's a lot of museums!!!)

They even have post cards!

The kids really liked the museums at Union Station, especially the Railroad Museum. There were fun train displays, train crossing play areas, and old train cars they could climb around in. (PopPop was enthralled by the Firearms Museum. We could have left him wandering around there for several days. In fact, I think we might have. Has anyone seen PopPop?)

It's an old train station and it's home to several museums.

The Dinosaur Park was a thrill for the kids. They loved wandering through the dinosaur statues and the animatronic dinosaurs, too. And they played for quite some time in the playground and fossil-digging areas.


However, for our kids the favorite museum, by far, was the Treehouse Children's Museum. It is an amazing place! Each kid had several things that they enjoyed, from the train-track tables, to the fire truck, the diner, the parachutes, the bear cave, the Oval Office, the milking cow, the bucking broncos, the bull riding, the arts and crafts, and more! My ten year-old daughter even got to walk right into the lead role in a play! We spent over six hours at the Treehouse Museum, and none of our four kids ever got bored. (The only reason we left was because the adults were getting exhausted and hungry.)

Choo! Choo! Choo-rific!

In fact, there are so many museums that, despite taking two different vacations to Ogden, we haven't seen them all. (I've heard the Hill Aerospace Museum is fantastic, but we just haven't had time to get there yet. Maybe on our next vacation to Ogden.)

Just like Orlando! (But with more mountains and fewer swamps.)

So, when you think of trendy, fun vacation spots, Ogden, Utah might not be one of the first places to come to mind. But, if you've got kids, it should. (Heck, one day they might even start calling Orlando the Ogden of Florida!)

The preceding was not paid for by the Ogden Travel Council--but I'd be willing to accept some money from them if they'd like to send any my way!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Friday Fiction: The Naughty Nurse Costume

The following story is a complete work of fiction. (Except that we all know a guy like this.)

Jessie had never been fond of Halloween.

She wasn't sure why. It's possible it started that year her mom made her dress up as a Skittle and she had to spend the whole night explaining to people that she was a Skittle, not an M&M. "See," she would say as she pointed to her chest, "It's an 'S,' not an 'M.'"

She pulled up to the Costume-A-Rama store and found a parking spot. She'd seen their billboard and heard their ad on the radio. She'd also already been to Walmart and Target, and their costume sections were pretty well picked through. It was the day before Halloween, so if she couldn't find a costume at Costume-A-Rama, she probably couldn't find one anywhere.

She stepped into the store. It was bigger than it looked. And, yes, they did still have quite a selection of costumes. She started to look down each aisle to see if she could find what she wanted. She was startled when the voice over her shoulder said, "Welcome to Costume-A-Rama! Can I help you find anything?"

"Yes," Jessie replied. "I'm looking for the nurse costumes." Gary had suggested that they go to the party as a doctor and a nurse. They'd only been going out for about three weeks, so she thought it a little odd that he try to dictate to her what costume she wear. But, a nurse costume seemed simple enough, and she really didn't want to put the effort into something more creative.

"The nurse costumes are down Aisle D, over on the left," said the helpful employee.

"Thanks," Jessie said. The employee gave her a nod of acknowledgement, then walked away. Jessie watched as he then snuck up behind another customer and startled them with his offer to help.

Jessie walked down Aisle D and found the nurse costumes. She pulled the first one off the rack. "Sexy Nurse," it said on the tag. There was a picture of a woman in the costume, to show the consumer what the product looked like. The woman in the picture was wearing a short, white "nurse" skirt with a low cut neck. About 90% of the woman's legs were exposed below the skirt, and about 60% of her breasts were showing above it.

Jessie shook her head and put the costume back on the rack. She picked out the next costume. It was labelled as "Slutty Nurse," and it was even skimpier than the first one. Disgusted, she browsed through the entire nurse-costume section. They were labelled "Sexy Nurse," "Slutty Nurse," "Attractive Nurse," "Adult Nurse," "Naughty Nurse," and "Hot Nurse." She did find one costume that was labelled just plain old "Nurse," but upon examination it was the exact same costume as the "Hot Nurse," just with a different picture on the front.

The next night, Jessie arrived at the party feeling pretty good about herself. Everyone was in costume. She knew a lot of the people there, but she could only recognize a few of them. She was looking for Gary, but couldn't see him yet. She did see Sheldon and Suzanne, and she said her hellos to them. They had told her earlier that they were coming as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. They both looked fantastic, although with their wigs Jessie wasn't quite sure which one was dressed as Trump and which one was dressed as Hillary.

Finally, she saw Gary at the back of the room. He was dressed in doctor's scrubs, with a stethoscope around his neck. "Well, hello there, Dr. Gary," she said enthusiastically.

Gary smiled as he heard her voice, but the smile faded as he looked her over. "That's what you're wearing?" he asked with more than a hint of disdain in his voice.

Jessie was confused. "Yes," she said. "Is there a problem with it?"

"Umm," Gary muttered, "I thought you were going to dress as a nurse."

"I am dressed as a nurse," Jessie replied. "My sister Janice is a nurse, so I borrowed some of her scrubs." She threw her arms into the air, as if to present herself. "What do you think?"

"Umm, well, I thought you were going to wear a nurse costume," Gary said.

"This is a nurse costume," Jessie replied. "This is a costume worn by an actual nurse."

"But I was thinking something more, I don't know, sexy," Gary said.

"Really?" Jessie replied. "I'm not sexy enough for you?"

"No, that's not what I meant," Gary sputtered. "I just thought that your costume would, you know, show a little more."

"A little more what?" Jessie was starting to show a little more. A little more of her disgust.

"Oh, you know," Gary continued, "a little more of you. You're so hot that I thought I'd like to see a little more of your body. It's a great body." Gary added that last sentence in an attempt to get himself out of the hole he had been digging. Instead, he only dug himself a little deeper.

Jessie thought for a moment. "What about your costume? You've got a great body, too. Why can't I see some more of it?"

"Well that's just stupid," Gary said. "I'm dressed as a doctor."

"Yes, I see that," Jessie said. "But why couldn't you be a bit more of a sexy doctor?"

"Oh, come on," Gary retorted. "This is how doctors dress!"

"And this," Jessie said as she waved her hand from head to toe to show off her costume, "is how nurses dress!"

Gary looked flummoxed. Jessie stepped a little closer to him and patted him on the shoulder. "Gary," she said, "I'll be seeing you around. I'm going to go and enjoy what's left of this party. And the next time you see me, no matter what I'm wearing, I'll be dressed as your ex-girlfriend."

Gary stood with his jaw agape as Jessie walked away. She had a satisfied smile on her face as she wandered through the crowd. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were making out by the punch bowl.


Now choose a title that best fits this story.

O A. Sexy Nurse
O B. Naughty Nurse
O C. Drama at the Costume-A-Rama
O D. The Nice Nurse and the Naughty Doctor
O E. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Edited from a post originally published on 10/30/2015.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Watching Television Together As a Family (Then and Now)

I watched a lot of television growing up. The whole family would sit together in the living room, watching whatever Dad or Mom decided to watch. (Sometimes Dad would be reading the newspaper, not paying much attention to the tube, so occasionally us kids even got to choose!)

Television: then.
We watched a wide variety of shows, including variety shows (Carol Burnett, Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie, Flip Wilson, etc.); situational comedies (M*A*S*H*, Happy Days, The Jeffersons, Barney Miller, etc.); detective/cop shows (Barnaby Jones, Columbo, Charlie's Angels, McMillan & Wife, etc.); adventure shows (Wonder Woman, Bionic Woman, Six Million Dollar Man, Dukes of Hazzard, etc.); and even the "reality" shows of the day (Real People, Battle of the Network Stars, Monday Night Football, 60 Minutes, etc.)

Yes, we watched too much television, but we would sit as a family--the entire family!!!--and watch these shows together. Does anybody do that anymore? We don't.

The state of television is much different today than it was back then. We had three (maybe four) channels, and if we wanted to watch something different, one of the kids (usually me) would be sent to change the channel via a knob on the front of the television set. (We called it a "set" then; it wasn't just a screen, it was a piece of furniture.) Today, we don't even get the broadcast channels in our home. We watch shows using Hulu and Amazon Prime. (Unlike most folks, we haven't yet succumbed to Netflix.) So, even if we wanted to watch what the networks are putting on the air, the viewing experience would be completely different.

Television: now.
But, we don't want to watch what the networks put out. The shows either don't interest us, or they aren't appropriate for our children. And a show is almost guaranteed to be full of adult language and/or situations unless it's on one of the broadcast networks. (And that might not last for long. Here's an article where a writer for Entertainment Weekly advocates the use of the f-word on the broadcast networks.) There just isn't anything that we can all sit around and watch together as a family anymore.

Well, there is one show we watch together as a family. For some reason, our kids love the show Full House. They think it's the greatest thing ever. So, we'll occasionally pile onto the couch as a family and watch Full House. My ten, eight, and three year-olds love it. It mostly holds my two year-old's attention. My wife likes it because it reminds her of her childhood. I tolerate it because everyone else likes it so much.

This is a show that first aired in September of 1987; that's over 31 years ago. And that's what we found as a show that we can all watch together. To put that in perspective, in 1976, when I was the same age as our oldest child, it would be the equivalent of watching a show from 1945! (Which would be very difficult to do.)

Yes, I know: times change; nothing is ever going to be the way it used to be; I'm just a grumpy old dude. All true. But, I'd like to hope that there's a chance that someday I might be able to sit on the couch and actually watch a show with my grandkids.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Still Enjoying Them While I Can

As I was trying to figure out what to post for my blog today, I came across this piece I wrote two years ago about enjoying my kids while I can. A lot has changed over the two years since I wrote this; my kids have grown and they are very different than they were then. But, the premise still holds: if you have kids, no matter how old they are, you need to enjoy them while you can. Time moves fast--make the most of those moments you have with your kids before those moments are gone. 

Here's what I wrote then:

They call me "Slow Joe" for a variety of reasons. Chief among those is how long it took me to get married and have a family. I was almost 42 years old before my first child was born. When my wife and I had our fourth baby this spring, most of the people my age (I'm forty-ten) were starting to have grandchildren.

Whenever I talk to my contemporaries, and they look at my children (ages 8, 6, almost 2, and five months), they always get a wistful look in their eyes. They'll look at their own children, in their teens or twenties, and invariably tell me, "Joe, they get big so quick. Enjoy them while you can!"

And so, that's what I'm trying to do. #enjoythemwhileyoucan. (I really don't know if that's the proper use of a hashtag or not. Remember, I'm old.)

Already things are starting to pass me by. Within the past couple of weeks my five month-old son has stopped sticking his tongue out every time he smiles. It was incredibly cute when he did it. I'm glad I was able to enjoy it while I could.

I can still get him to smile pretty much any time I want to just by smiling at him, or making a clicking sound with my mouth, or holding him up to the mirror so he can see himself. I love to see him smile, and I'm enjoying it while I can.

He has some very cute clothing. He has a shirt that says, "I'm cute. Mom's cute. Daddy's lucky." He has another shirt that says, "Daddy's Sidekick," and comes with a little cape. He has several outfits that have a cute little something sewn over his bum, including a monkey, a monster, a football, and a baseball. I'm enjoying his cute clothes while I can. (No one over the age of three should wear pants with a monkey on the bum.)

Football bum! 
But, the baby isn't the only one I'm enjoying.

My almost-two year-old and I have a routine in the morning. She'll make some noise to let me know she's awake. I'll slowly open her door and play peek-a-boo with her a few times through the crack of the door. I'll get her out of her crib, take off her pajamas, and change her diaper. I'll put some clothes on her. I'll then stand her up on the changing table, and she'll give me a BIG hug. I'll then pick her up and hand her the pajamas she just took off. I'll hold her above the dirty clothes hamper, and she'll drop the pajamas in. I'll thank her for putting away her dirty clothes. I'll grab a bib. She'll say, "Bib! Bib! Bib!" I'll take her to the kitchen and put her in the high chair. I'll grab a banana for her. I'll talk into as if it were a telephone. She'll give me a courtesy laugh. I'll give her the banana and then get her some milk and whatever else we're having for breakfast.

We do this routine almost every day. She loves it, and I'm going to enjoy it while I can!

My six year-old son has big plans. He's going to be a master chef, a dentist, a construction worker, and an Olympic swimmer. All at the same time. He's very enthusiastic about his ideas for the future. His enthusiasm is contagious, and I'm enjoying it while I can.

My eight year-old daughter loves to read, and she loves to tell us about the books she has just read. (I probably know more about the "Percy Jackson" book series than anyone who has never read any of the books or seen the movies.) She also loves to write and draw her own stories. They're great, and I'm enjoying it while I can.

I really do love my kids. They are incredible, and I'm trying my best to enjoy them while I can.

And to those friends of mine whose kids are in their teens and twenties: Sure, they might not be cute little babies anymore, but they still can bring you a lot of happiness. It's never too late to #enjoythemwhileyoucan! (There, I hope I did that hashtag right.)

My kids have grown and changed a lot in the last two years, but one thing still holds true: No one under the age of three should wear pants with a monkey on the bum!

Updated from a post originally published on 10/16/2016.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

"I Did It!" vs. "Don't Do That!"

We all want our children to be safe. We want to protect them from harm and keep them from any situation that might possibly be dangerous.

We also want our children to be independent. We want them to be able to think and do things for themselves without constantly having to ask for our help.

Unfortunately, those two concepts are often at odds with each other. It's hard to let your child do everything for himself while also making sure he is completely safe. And if you are continually protecting her from harm, it's difficult for her to learn how to do anything on her own.

It's a parental conundrum.

This has been especially problematic with our youngest son. He's not quite two and a half years old, yet he thinks he is capable of doing everything his older siblings can do. His brother and sisters were generally cautious; he is not.

Much of his independence manifests itself in his ability to climb. He'll climb into his brother's loft bed. He'll climb to get things on the high shelf in the refrigerator. If he wants something that's on top of the piano, he'll climb to get it. One of his favorite activities is climbing up all the way into his car seat in the mini-van. When he gets there, he'll proudly declare, "I did it!"

I did it!

His self-satisfied shouts of "I did it!" aren't just for climbing. He'll say it after doing anything he thinks might have been a little difficult, like taking off his socks, correctly identifying the letter "V," or making the cow pop up on the pop-up farm toy. As a parent, it's delightful to see his confidence growing with each shout of "I did it!"

Sometimes, however, his confidence overshoots his abilities, like this morning when I was quizzing his older brother on his spelling words. "Spell 'envelope,'" I said, but as big brother started to answer, the little brother shouted, "No! I do it myself!" He then, with great surety, told me that 'envelope' is spelled. "e-o-e-h-i-j."

That's all good and well, but then there are times when the things he tries just aren't safe, and we have to counter with yells of "Don't do that!" It's great that he can climb to the top of the piano, but he really shouldn't. He thinks he's capable of unloading the dishwasher (even though he can't reach the cupboards to put anything away), getting his own cereal (even though he can't lift the jug of milk), or driving a car (even though he can't see over the steering wheel or reach the pedals.)

There's a delicate balance between "I did it!" and "Don't do that!"

One of the places where that balance manifests itself is on the stairs. The first time a child slides down the stairs by himself, parents are torn between fear and pride. Later, the decision of when it is safe enough for him to go down the stairs while standing is one of the most difficult to make. No one wants their child to fall down the stairs, but they've got to learn to navigate them eventually.

So, I'm left with the quandary of when to do things for him and when to let him do things for himself.  I want him to be independent, but I also don't want him to get hurt. (Sometimes this whole "parenting" thing isn't as easy as they make it look on tv.)

Friday, October 5, 2018

Box Is the Best! (5 Reasons Why)

We have a box in our living room. It has been in our living room for quite a while. It is wonderful. Here's just a few of the reasons why:

1. Box is affordable.
We didn't pay any money to get the box. Oh, sure, you might say that part of our annual Amazon Prime fee goes to paying for the boxes, but I think that's just nitpicking. Besides, it doesn't have to be an Amazon Prime box for the kids to enjoy it. Quite often boxes that toys come in get played with more than the toy that came in the box.

2. Box is durable.
We have had the box that is currently in our living room for several months. In that time it has been stepped in, stepped on, sat in, sat on, kicked, punched, turned upside down, stood upon, and taken pretty much any other abuse that can possibly be inflicted upon it by four children. And still it stands! (Very few purchased toys would be able to withstand such a thrashing.)

3. Box is disposable.
And yet, if the box were to collapse, or if we, as parents, got tired of it, we could simply break it down and put it in the recycling bin. Recycling is a good thing. We can use the box to help "save the planet."

4. Box is replaceable.
If we do get rid of the box, there's nothing to worry about. Why? Well, another box will be along soon to take its place. There will be another large toy, small appliance, or Amazon Prime order. There will always be another box.


5. Box is versatile.
This is the key. A box can be anything! Over the past several weeks the box in our living room has been:
a race car
a space ship
a closet
a submarine
a stage
a transporter machine
a boat
a movie theater's desk
a coffin
a castle
a cave
a hot tub
a space station
a coloring book
a hiding place
and a throne. (Among other things.)

Oh, and a radio. (One kid hides inside the box. A second kid knocks on the box and requests a song. Then, the kid who is hiding inside the box must sing the song that has been requested.) Box!!!

So, yes, a box is the best toy you could ever have for your children. They'll have hours and hours of fun with it. (Unless you want them to play with the box. If so, they'll completely ignore it.)

Edited from a post originally published on 9/16/2016.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

My Son Won the Pinewood Derby! (with absolutely NO help from me)

The Pinewood Derby! It's a right of passage for every Cub Scout aged boy. They (or their parents) take a block of wood and shape it into a car that will race other cars down a track. It's a fun adventure, and it teaches the boys life lessons about losing, because every car ends up losing. (Except for one.) (I was not expecting my kid's car to be the one.)

The cliche is that the fathers of the Cub Scout boys get very competitive when making Pinewood Derby cars. They'll work on it for weeks, doing anything they can to make the car go faster. Sometimes, they'll even break the rules and cheat. They want to win at all costs--I mean they want their son to win at all costs. I am not that guy.

Recently, on a Monday morning I woke up and realized that my son's Pinewood Derby was scheduled for Tuesday evening. The race was less than 36 hours away, and my son's car was still just a block of wood in a box. (We'd had that box of wood for several weeks, but I had yet to do anything with it.) If it had been left to me, he probably would have ended up with a block of wood with wheels on it; a car possibly able to roll down the track, but at a speed much slower than all the other cars.

Luckily for my son, I am not his only parent.

The best Pinewood Derby car I've ever not helped make!

Now, my wife had no grand designs to blow all the competition away or win at all costs. She took on the Pinewood Derby project mostly so that our son would have a good, fun experience; in order to do that it would help to have a competitive, competent car--something more than just a block of wood with wheels. So, she started off by taking the block of wood to work with her. She teaches at the junior high, and she enlisted the help of the school librarian to cut the wood block into the shape of a Pinewood Derby car. (Back in my day school libraries just had books and encyclopedias. Apparently, nowadays they have table saws in the space the encyclopedias used to take up.)

When she got home from work, my wife consulted the interwebs for tips on making good Pinewood Derby cars, then she called in her Dad to help. My father-in-law (known to my kids as PopPop) had three daughters but no sons, so he never got the chance to make a Pinewood Derby car. He jumped at the chance to help with his oldest grandson.

The boy helps paint his car.

My wife, my father-in-law, and my son worked on the car for a few hours, then called it a night. The car was rounding into shape, but it still needed some work. PopPop consulted a neighbor who had made several cars for his sons over the years. When my wife got home from school on Tuesday, she, PopPop, and The Boy put the finishing touches on the car.

Throughout this whole process, my only contribution to the making of the Pinewood Derby car was watching the other kids so they didn't interfere with the car construction.

They finished the car just in time, then took it to the church house for racetime. The car passed the weight inspection--it was legal and ready to roll! When it came time for the first heat, my expectations weren't very high. Four cars were lined up on the track, which meant, everything else being equal, that there was a three out of four chance that my son's car wouldn't win. So, when his car finished way ahead of the other three cars, I was shocked. My son was ecstatic! We could have ended the racing right then and the whole endeavor would have been worth it. However, there were still more heats to run, and faster cars to run against.

That blue blur on the left is my son's car!

Pinewood Derbies have changed a lot since I was a kid. Back then, the track was wobbly and close races would lead to arguments about which car finished first. Today, the track is all digitized. Race times are confirmed by the computer down to the thousandth of a second. This is a good thing, because in some of the other heats, the cars were so close it was hard to determine who won based on the naked eye. But, in almost every race the computer said my son's car came out ahead.

His car ended up winning seven of the eight heats he raced in, which was enough to edge out the other fast cars and win the overall championship! So, instead of learning how to lose, my son got to learn how to win gracefully, without being a jerk. (He was pretty good about it; he was excited for winning, but didn't gloat about it. He's a good kid.) Now the big worry is tempering his expectations for next year's races.

And, hopefully he'll remember how his Mom and PopPop cared enough to help make him a champion.