When I was a Girl Scout selling cookies door-to-door, I was jealous of the Cub Scouts in my class, always verbally jousting about their Pinewood Derby strategies. How many times did I have to listen to those smug boys talk about weights, decals and axle lubricants, while I spent my winter weekends hawking Tagalongs on the sidewalk outside a Kroger, trying to sound cheerful in a green polyester dress?
I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy Girl Scout cookies. You know I did. I just would have liked to weigh in on the woodworking competition too. Instead, I was hypnotized into believing the Cub Scouts were doing something super-cool that I couldn’t do.
Fast-forward 35 years. A friend who is a Girl Scout leader asked if I would help her troop prepare for the Pinewood Derby.
I was reminded of the time I was invited to join the acolyte guild at church. My father said it must be a mistake. He apologized and explained sweetly that the Episcopalians must have thought my first name belonged to a boy. Girls can’t be acolytes, he said.
As it turned out, the church had modernized since my dad was a Depression-era altar boy, and I went on quite happily to carry the cross down the aisle for the next six years. (I always enjoyed acolyting, because I didn’t have to wear ironed church clothes under the flowing robes. Also, for what it’s worth, as a crucifer or torchbearer, you are the last person in the church and the first person out. It is a very efficient way to worship.)
Anyway, when my fried asked if I could help build the cars, I almost responded like my dad: “But Girl Scouts don’t make Pinewood Derby cars,” I thought. But, like my dad, I was wrong. These days, Girl Scouts do indeed make Pinewood Derby cars.
I was absolutely thrilled to spend a day teaching girls to use tools, not just because I have three sons and don’t get a lot of girl time, but because learning to use tools has empowered me, and I wanted to pass it on.
On Saturday, about a half-dozen curious and creative girls gathered in the art room at their school, where I, along with an intrepid Girl Scout dad and my fearless friend Noni, led them in a design-build process that we dubbed “Draw-Saw-Sand.”
In a perfect balance of gross- and fine-motor skills, Noni and I brought yellow power tools, while the dad brought artisanal European woodworking gear. The girls designed cars based on Wreck-It Ralph, mustaches and killer whales, among other motifs. We adults did the sawing, while the girls did the drawing and sanding. It was a blast.
The most fabulous part about the workshop was that not one of the girls seemed to have the slightest awareness of the fact that it was a seismic change for her to be making a Pinewood Derby car. I couldn’t help but take it as a sign that lines between boys’ activities and girls’ activities are blurring.
We’ve come along way, baby.
On the other hand, some things never change. In the process of designing our racers, I told the joke about the snail who goes into a used car dealership and asks to have a giant “S” painted on the hood of an automobile. The salesman asks the snail why he wants a giant “S” painted on the hood, and the snail replies, “When I drive down the street, I want everyone to say, ‘Wow! Look at that S-car go.’ ”
Gender roles may change with the times, but that escargot joke will never stop being hilarious. And Tagalongs will never stop being awesome.