The only things I actually learned from cub scouts

I have a lot of respect for the Scouting programs. I think leaders have the opportunity to teach young men and boys at a very impressionable age.  But I honestly remember very little I actually learned in Cub Scouts. Other than learning how to build a “buddy burner” stove out of a coffee can, with a little burner inside made from a tuna fish can filled with a coil of wax-covered, coiled up cardboard, I don’t think I learned very many usable skills in cub scouts.

But there were two experiences where I learned powerful lessons from my parents, while in cub scouts, that I didn’t learn from any of my cub scout leaders, or from any manual or merit badge. I’ll attempt to describe them:

The Pinewood derby. A rite of passage for sons and fathers alike. I remember how excited I was that first year, when my dad and I fashioned a red race car. It was amazingly aerodynamic on the front end, and had a raised spoiler on the tail end. I insisted on the spoiler, because I had a plastic toy race car that was red, with a raised spoiler. My dad carefully helped me design the car, and how from this single block of wood, we would create our masterpiece.

I remember the fresh smell of paint, and how brilliantly red it looked, fresh off of our make-shift assembly line–made of newspaper spread out over the tool room floor. We loaded it underneath with chunks of lead, in order to get it to regulation weight. I probably spun the wheels a hundred times, in eager participation of its performance on the track.

Its performance on the track was less than steller. In fact, I’m pretty sure it lost every race. It seemed to jump off the line ahead of the pack, like it just couldn’t wait to get started, but the other cars easily passed it up. When I asked my dad why it didn’t perform so well, he pointed out the rear spoiler, and how it added more wind resistance.  My dad said something like, “I knew it would affect the speed, but you really wanted the spoiler.” Though disappointed in my car’s race results, I was still proud of how my car looked, and he was right, it was exactly what I wanted.

The other experience happened at the cub scout bake sale. We were all required to bring our mothers, 2 cake rounds, frosting, and things to decorate the cake with. My mom took me to the grocery store to pick out my decor. I don’t remember everything I selected, but I remember choosing  candy corn, and judging by what I like now, probably M&Ms and smarties.  I’m sure, due to my lifelong obsession with this flavor, I picked yellow cake rounds, and I do remember the  chocolate frosting.

The day of the bake sale arrived. My mom and I sat across from each other, seated at one of those long folding tables–one of about 6 or so in a big horse shoe shape. I got to work. At first, I’m sure my 10 year old hands roughed up the cake pretty badly, as I tried to spread the icing–which probably more closely resembled a little miniature snow shovel, than an accurate decorative tool. But my mom showed me how to do it properly, after which I went right back to work. For the top, I either tried to spell my name, or some cool design with the candy corn and other assorted goodies, but I remember being pretty satisfied with my cake.  My mom also did an excellent job encouraging me, and letting me know I was doing an outstanding job. I remember thinking that I probably had the most delicious cake in the room!

The cubmaster called everyone’s attention, and said that they would now be starting the auction, and we then needed to bring our cakes to the front of the room.  This was the first time I’d understood that we’d actually be putting our own cakes up for auction. I looked around the room at my buddy’s cakes, and saw that they were all beautiful works of art. It was then, that I discovered that I was the only cub scout in the room who had actually decorated his own cake.

I meekly took my cake to the front of the room, and set it on the shelf. I remember feeling incredibly nervous as I awaited my cake’s turn–watching  bidding frenzies over Tim’s cake, over Michael’s cake, over Scott’s cake, and Stephen’s cake.

Finally, it was my cake’s turn.

Suddenly, I hated my cake. I looked at it, all lopsided, and imperfect and felt ashamed. There it was next to beautiful white cakes with perfect borders, and there mine was with gobs of frosting, crumbs from the yellow cake mixed in with the frosting where I’d been too rough, and a crooked design made of candy corn and M&Ms.

“Now, who wants to bid on Craig’s cake?” Asked my cubmaster, and the room went silent.

My face burned.

No one bid on my cake.

Silence.

All I remember about that moment is how I wanted to be anywhere but right there. Anywhere but standing there, looking down, because I couldn’t look at my cake. As I’m re-living that memory, I can’t help but feel sad for that little 10 year old.

“7 dollars*” my mom said. A reasonable amount for a cake.

“Sold, to Craig’s mom,” was the cubmaster’s reply.

I felt an overwhelming sense of comfort and love as my mom put her arm around me. She again told me how wonderful my cake was, and how good of a job I had done. I felt better, with the feelings of shame and embarrassment quickly disappearing.

We packed up my cake in a white tupperware container we’d brought, and headed for the car. On the ride home, I couldn’t help but get excited to how we’d dig into it at the dinner table. My mom continued to reinforce that I’d done a fantastic job, and that now I’d actually decorated my own cake. I’m pretty sure no cake has ever been as sweet, and loaded with good candy as that cake, and I’m sure I loved every bite.

Now, I share those stories not because of what I learned then–but what I am learning now, as a parent, looking back over my life for different things I’ve learned from my own parents. I have a profound respect for the way my parents handled each of those situations. What I learned from my dad was that it was far more important to help me build MY dream car, than to build his own. I know how a lot of dads CAN’T wait for their son’s pinewood derby, so they can help them create the ultimate winning car, and that’s totally fine–I am not criticizing that in any way. It becomes their own bonding experience which is very powerful… but in my case, my dad helped me create the car that I envisioned–which focused more on my own growth and development, while putting a smile on my face. I was fascinated how we turned a boring old block of wood into my ideal racecar, and even though my dad knew full well how it would affect performance, he helped me to achieve my goal, rather than live vicariously through me.

What I learned from my mom, is that never did she look around to see what the other mothers were doing. She has never operated that way. In that moment, the rest of the room didn’t exist. She was 100% focused on me, her youngest son, and my own development as a person. She helped me as I struggled, and assisted me in my own creation of what I dreamed would be the perfect cake. She didn’t care about social pressures, or keeping up with others–like I see so many young mothers doing. She cared about me growing as a young man, and having an experience that I wouldn’t otherwise have.  And she was right there, encouraging me.

I never recognized the wisdom in these two experiences until now, as I have my own son. And I can only hope that when faced with similar situations, I can avoid hijacking my son’s development in favor of winning socially, and let my son always know that it’s about him, and his growth.

That’s what’s important to me, and it’s funny–after all these years, I can honestly say, two of the most profound lessons on parenting were two of the only truly applicable things I remember actually learning in cub scouts.

*I don’t remember exactly what my mom bid–and I don’t remember how much time actually passed. Probably very little time, but to a 10 year old, 20 seconds feels like eternity.

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2 Comments

  1. Jeremy Lee

     /  November 19, 2011

    good for your parents letting you live your cub scout years without high jacking it from you. if max ever decides to join scouts I think I will help him with his car and do one of my own at the same time. I just have an itch for pinewood derby, I think I may start ordering parts tonight!

    Reply
    • Craig

       /  November 25, 2011

      Yeah, I think my parents did a pretty good job on those kinds of things. I don’t mean to bash fathers who DO get over-involved, but this was just a certain situation that taught me a profound lesson on focusing on the growth of my children.

      Reply

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