If you are one of those people who believes that everyone who crouches in the starting blocks should take home a gold medal or that a scoreboard is best viewed as more of a suggestion than actual math or that spelling bees should give trophies for "close enough" then listen up, I have found your Promised Land. Cub Scouts.
In the two and a half years that my oldest son has been in our church Cub Scout troop, our family has participated in multiple celebrations of the engineering prowess of 8-11 year old boys... and when I say "8-11 year old boys" I mean the parents of "8-11 year old boys". This includes two rain gutter regattas whose balsa wood "boats" would make desperate refugees turn around and head for home and three good, old-fashioned Pinewood Derbys. (This, by the way, does not count the "Racin' for Pinks Pinewood Derby" that I organized for the 8-11 year old girls the year before we started doing time with my son... because I don't think other parents should get out this kind of nonsense just because they have daughters. How's that for post-modern feminism? Equal torture all around.)
So as not to send home any of the drivers, (or their pit crews), with wounded pride, I volunteered to print up the certificates for the winners... and when I say "winners", I mean "every kid who stuck wheels on a block of wood and pushed the thing down an inclined track". After brainstorming the first 7 or 8 awards including "best paint", "best paint color" and "best paint design", my intense and furious desire to stand guard over my son's self-esteem and my equally intense and furious compulsion to be an actual winner were locked in a cage match for domination of my personal life philosophy. On the one hand, I believe that children gain confidence through accomplishment not made-up accomplishment. They gain resilience and perseverance and humility by losing, failing and falling short. Also, they know when you are lying to them about how great they did at something that they weren't so great at. On the other hand I believe that my 10 year old son and I share a heart and a soul (also he may have hair spun from actual, real gold), so, there's that.
The solution to my battle with hypocrisy was solved by my husband. Instead of less competition, more competition. (Adam Smith is his life coach.) By the end of that derby we had first, second and third fastest cars along with the other "subjective winners", but we also had a winner for longest coast, best gym-floor donut, and longest tire spin with graphite. Who, you might ask, wants to win "longest tire spin with graphite"? Twenty five 8-11 year old boys (and their dads), that's who. Why? Because beating other people is fun, if not politically correct... and inspired by this simple truth, I now credit the Cub Scout Pinewood Derby with helping me pull off the greatest parenting upset ever. Ever.
At the very time I was knee deep in designing certificates for pretend winning, I was also attempting to potty train my 4th and final child. For the third time. I have always been committed to the idea that once you start down the potty training pathway, you do not, under any circumstances turn back. Basically, I am the Donner party of potty training. I have a high tolerance for potty training set backs, but this last kid just flat out beat me. Twice. (Humility, resilience, perseverance.) I would put him on the toilet. I would wait for that lovely liquid running into liquid sound. I had my potty dance ready to go. No sound. So, I would take him off, pull up the unders, pull up the trousers, zip the whole mess up and wash the hands just in time for him to flood the step stool. Every freakin' time. Here's something I learned, if you choose to fight the battle to mandate when another person pees, prepare to lose. (Remember, this applies to eating too, in case you ever try to feed my daughter, "the vegetarian", any vegetables.)
Then one morning I had the most genius idea ever. Instead of less competition, more competition. I woke my son and said "Today we are in a race to see who can use the potty the most. I have already gone twice, so that means that right now you are losing 2 - 0. I might have to go again soon." This produced what my mother would call a "significant emotional experience" in my three year old. The Cub Scout mom who wants her son to get a certificate for "best car with three wheels" might have felt bad for him. Unfortunately, he got the mom who has won the Portland Region Meanest-Mom-Ever traveling trophy more times than she can count. There was some screaming about needing privacy, a door slam (albeit not a very loud one) and then the score was 2-1.
It has been a good 6 weeks since the pinewood potty training triumph (we were totally accident free in two days) and my three year old is still doing a running tally of our points. Some days I beat him on purpose, just to keep him hungry, but most days I am content in the knowledge that no matter how high his score climbs, I earned the win on this one.