I’m standing before a mint-condition, piercing red 1965 Bizzarrini P538 race car. I can’t even muster a word, like that awe-struck kid who’s utterly speechless in the presence of his hero ballplayer. The Bizzarrini is a one-of-a-kind Italian sports car that just oozes sex and speed, and it’s so surprisingly low to the ground that even a toddler could climb in. Oh, right. My 3-year-old daughter is with me – and she couldn’t care less about the Bizzarrini that I’m about to lick.
This moment is poignant because it reminds me what it means to teach your kid something (or to try to). It means that something is important to you, whether it’s the significance of a religious holiday, or a story told to you decades ago by your own parents, or a personal life value that you desperately want your child to adopt. Or a shared passion for gorgeous, hand-crafted European race cars that make most dads stop dead in their tracks.
While I certainly feel a bit foolish in the moment, I have to admit I’m still determined to teach my daughter the words Ferrari, Aston Martin, and Lamborghini. I brought us here because I want her to appreciate that these vehicles are absolute marvels of imagination and technology. I want her to feel what I feel, that visceral, heart-thumping excitement in response to these rare machines with their growling V-12 engines and luxurious exotic styling. And that’s why I’m a complete idiot. Because it’s not the right place or time for that.
As I force my daughter to stand there longer with me, I realize that she’s not actually bored with the car itself but with the gallery where we’re viewing it. She begins aggressively swinging the blood-red felt rope that separates us and the car because she wants to get closer, to touch it, to get inside. And I have to say, I couldn’t agree with her more. It suddenly feels pretty ridiculous to be viewing these amazing driving machines as they quietly and meekly sit there, mere shadows of what they really could be on the open road. (I’ll leave the zoo analogy untouched.)
We turn to leave and I realize that the trip has been a bust. My daughter still does not know the word Ferrari and the uniqueness of these cars is still completely lost on her. But her felt-rope-swinging impatience has reminded me of the value of experience, as in feel-it-with-my-own-two-hands experience. Why did I ever think I could inspire her in the equivalent of a car library?
It’s a good reminder of how to craft a successful activity that’s equally enjoyable for parent and child. While I’d clearly shaped this experience to not suck for me and to pass the “single friend beer test” (i.e. good story-telling potential), I’d dropped the ball on framing up the right experience for my 3-year-old, who wasn’t enjoying just looking at the cars from a distance. (At least at an outdoor car show, they’ll rev the thundering 12-cylinder engines and you can get up real close and personal.)
Which leads me to our next adventure. While I may not own a Ferrari, I sure as hell can rent one. Guaranteed my daughter would know the word Ferrari after that.