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Devlyn Brooks, Published March 09 2010

Parenting Perspectives: Dad finds losing sometimes makes you a winner

Looking smart in his colorful Cub Scout uniform, the Bug stood next to the other boys, some the same age and many older, crowded around the head table, awaiting the announcement of the winners of his pack’s annual Pinewood Derby.

Minutes earlier I happened to be at the head table where the boys’ racing times were being calculated and I noticed that Bug’s time was just shy of third place, the final place in each den of Scouts to receive a medal.

I knew what he didn’t know and I wished that I didn’t.

The Bug had worked hard on his model car, sanding and shaping it to look like a race car, complete with a fanciful red, white, blue and black paint job that only he could have dreamt up.

For the past couple years, he had watched his brother’s cars roar down the track, racing against the other Scouts, while the Bug’s car was relegated to the “friends and family” race because he wasn’t old enough to be a Scout.

But not this year. This year was his first in Scouts, and he dreamed of the day he would claim victory on the racetrack.

Early on it looked good. In his three races he finished first, first and second. Surely that was good enough to earn him one of those shiny medals that lay neatly on the awards table.

But, alas, the placements didn’t matter, as it was each car’s time down the track that determined which car placed first and so on. And Bug’s time was just shy of third place. He would get no medal.

I knew this. He didn’t. So I watched the awards ceremony, waiting for the blow to come.

Bug anxiously watched as three of his fellow Tiger Cubs walked forward and had a medal draped around their necks. He clapped and cheered as vigorously as the other boys, celebrating his denmates’ achievements.

And when it settled in he didn’t win, he looked back at me and gave me a heart-wrenching I-didn’t-win-but-that’s-OK smile. Then, he turned back to the announcer and clapped for some more winners.

I will never know why Bug clapped through the entire awards ceremony: Maybe he was just hoping he’d get a medal at the end or maybe the reality just hadn’t sunk in. Regardless, he was there until it was over, and then he returned to our table, empty-handed and broken-hearted.

My little man, who isn’t so little, crawled into my lap, eyes a bit watery, and he buried his head in my shoulder.

“You know what,” I said, trying to console him.

“What?” he said, voice muffled against my neck.

“I’m sorry that you didn’t win. You worked hard on that car and that makes me proud,” I said. “But, you know what I’m most proud of?”

“What?” he asked, leaning back just enough that he could see my face.

“I’m most proud that you stood there the entire time and clapped for all of the other Scouts who won,” I said. “That’s even more important to me than you winning.”

“Thanks, Dad,” he said, but adding after a pause. “I still wanted to win.”

“I know. I know you really did, kiddo,” I said, patting him on the back. “But, trust me, you did.”

“Huh?” he asked, giving me the parents-say-the-strangest-things look.

“Never mind,” I said. “So … what’s next year’s car going to look like?”

And with a slight re-direct from Dad, the Bug moved on from feeling sorry to scheming to make next year’s car faster.

While they can be intensely sharp, thankfully, when you’re 7 years old, most of life’s disappointments are short-lived.

Devlyn Brooks is an editor for Forum Communications Co. He lives

in Moorhead with his two sons.