Pinewood Derby parenting lessons

When my sons participated in the Cub Scouts, the pack would always have a Christmas party. The celebration was always a ton of fun, until the very end of the evening. I dreaded that part of the night, because that’s when the pack leaders would hand out the Pinewood Derby kits.

Each individual cub scout with the help of an adult over the next few weeks would build a car from a kit that contained a small piece of pine wood, plastic wheels and nails that served as metal axles. The pack would have a race, complete with a 32-foot track and timer later in the March. The winner of each den would win a small trophy.

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Finding a Christmas tree bargain

I put my hands in my pocket, stood up tall, and told the salesman to take or leave my final offer. I wasn’t going to go any higher.

My wife and our three kids were hunting for a Christmas tree and off to one side of the small farm, we found the perfect Douglas Fir that we all seemed to like. The salesman muttered something about having to talk with his father, but when he saw that I was already starting to open my car door to leave, he caved in.

“You know, we’ve been busy today, let’s make a deal,” he said. “Let me cut the bottom and get it bound and up on your car.”

Or so I wished. In my head, I stood my ground and made the salesman come to my terms.

In reality, the salesman gave us a price. My wife and I looked at each other with an “oh it’s a little steep look,” but we both wanted to get back home with the tree to get it up in our house and would have caved in right on the spot.

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A new kind of College Signing Day?

The big man on campus walks across a podium in the Rice University basketball arena to the cheers and applause of more than 5,000 adoring fans. In their new book, The Power of Moments, Dan and Chip Heath describe the hoopla surrounding College Signing Day that a start-up charter school in Houston creates each year.

I can envision the scene in my head: coaches and the guest of honor seated at a table in the middle of the arena with two or three college hats with school colors situated prominently on the table. Mom and dad stand off to the side, their eyes beaming in the arena lights and the crowd explodes with excitement.

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The head coach says a few quick words and then hands the mic over to the football star. Which will it be? Florida State, Miami or maybe a surprise school, Ohio State or Oklahoma perhaps?

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A misfit among misfits

The kid looked out of place in the waiting room.

His glasses were smudged and he couldn’t stop fidgeting in his chair. He kept bouncing his feet up and down on the chair and accidentally kicking his mother. She had it with him. She kept telling him to stop and he kept telling her that he was bored.

When I looked at him, I couldn’t help but think of myself at the same age. Like him, I had thick glasses; my hair curled this way and that, never seeming to flow in one direction; my clothes usually were rumpled or grass-stained from playing outside; and, when I moved, I moved in herky jerky, skittish movements, constantly hitting the kid next to me on the bus or one of my brothers at the dinner table.

I liked playing sports — any sport for that matter — but I wasn’t an athlete. I liked to read, but I wasn’t an academic. I liked talking with friends, but was far from being gregarious.

I was a misfit.

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Which pretend superhero are you?

DC Comics supervillain, the Joker, stared back at me across the conference table. His skin bleached white and his hair a ghoulish green, the Joker asked in a high squeal if the paper he held in his hands was my best work.

The Joker is a homicidal maniac, bent on creating havoc, and rarely, if ever, fights fair, relying on acid-spewing flowers and fatal laughing-gas. I knew better than to take his bait.

I simply imagined what would Batman do in this situation. I sat up in my chair in my best Caped Crusader pose, smiled back, looked him straight in the eye and said, “My team and I gave it our best shot. We put in a lot of hard work, sought out feedback of others and polished and polished our proposal until we thought it shined.”

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Where has the service gone?

The cashier greeted me with a quick hello and a smile, and jumped into the job of ringing up my grocery order. She went about her job with speed and confidence. When I handed her my money to pay the bill, she counted out my change in a slow, deliberate fashion so that I could see that she had given me the correct change. I chuckled quietly to myself. She probably thought I had lost my mind. I laughed because when I do pay with cash, which is a rarity anymore, the cashier usually hands me my change in a wad that I’m scrambling to put away so that I can get out of the way of the next customer. It’s a rarity anymore to see a cashier to go to those lengths.

Two days later, I went out with coworker for a quick lunch. We didn’t have a lot of time in our schedule, but we also needed to get away from the office. We needed the break from deadlines and if nothing else, staring at a mountain of emails. The waiter looked barely old enough to drive, but when we told him our time constraints, he got right to work getting our lunch to us. In fact, he had us in-and-out with time to spare

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50 Shades of gray

As I get older I find that I’m becoming a contrarian. Well, I suspect I’ve always been one, I’m just becoming even more of one.

When everyone goes left, I go right. Whenever everyone goes right, I go left. It’s that way with big and little decisions

Here’s what I mean:

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Calming an impatient heart

At the first spot I stopped, an old man clasp his hands together across his chest, casually leaned his head back, and closed his eyes. In the next stop, packed with people nudged up against each other in tiny chairs, the teen next to me bent forward with his headphones on and scrolled through his music playlist.

I had to make a number of stops a couple weeks ago to my local garage to get my car worked on and then to the barbershop and I couldn’t help but notice that everyone else seemed to be dealing with “the wait” better than me.

Besides the old man and teenager, two men talked lazily about what they planned for the upcoming weekend and a guy my age whistled a show tune like he had all the time in the world.

And then there was me, my right leg restlessly moving up and down and my eyes bouncing up every few seconds to try to make eye contact to see if it was my turn. I’d sit for a few minutes and then stand-up abruptly to walk to the door to look out the window. I couldn’t go anywhere. My phone was dying and I couldn’t call anyone. Where did I think I was going? Who did I think I was going to call?

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The wisdom of Solomon

In the Bible, God comes to King Solomon in a dream and offers him whatever he wants. The mind explodes with possibilities: wealth, jewels, power, fame, and status all come quickly to mind.

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If in Solomon’s position, knowing me, I’d probably snicker or take on the “doubting Thomas” role, suggesting that God’s offer had to be a joke.  I would more than likely say something sarcastic like: “God asking me what I want? Yea right, when pigs fly.” I would assume it was a mixture of insomnia and a very active imagination.

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The art of the negotiation: The shootout at the O.K. Corral

I look him over coldly, head to toe. I pay close attention to the little beads of sweat forming on his brow and the twitch of his hands. He does the same to me. We’re both trying to read each other, to get a sense of the other guy.

We’re two cold-hearted gunslingers from the American Old West. In another time, we would have been in Dodge City, Kansas, or Tombstone, Arizona, facing off in a real life duel. Instead, we’re two men facing off in, well, a mattress store in suburbia.

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He’s a salesman, looking to add to his weekly sales total and push up his commission. I’m a customer looking to make the best possible deal. If we walked outside right now guns drawn, we’d probably get run over on this hot 90-degree day by a pimply-faced teenager fighting for a parking spot in front of the new frozen yogurt stand or by a soccer mom or dad in a huge tank-like SUV going to the LA Fitness gym. Continue reading “The art of the negotiation: The shootout at the O.K. Corral”