marco polo

A new school year brings to the forefront many activities. Last week, we welcomed the first of what I’m sure will be many kid reports/projects. You know, those things that I don’t keep track or, nor do I involve myself. So when I got the following email:

Tomorrow, is Mrs. Ungarean’s Explorer Reports. They will begin at 12:00 and end by 12:45. Please make sure your child brings his visual aid and costume for his/her report.

I turn to the Explorer Reporter and dutifully asked, “Is your report due tomorrow?

He replied, “I’m definitely sure it’s probably not due tomorrow.”


Thankfully, the next email quickly followed the first:

“I AM SOOOOOO SORRY!  Warren’s report is tomorrow, but your child’s report might be Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday.”

Can I just stop and say here … how MUCH I appreciate Room Mothers. They are so sweet to keep the calendar-challenged like myself on track. If only I could have a Room Mother take care of me all day, every day – maybe we would have some hope of normalcy around this crazy house.

But back to reality – the kid came home with news that his report would be on Thursday. Apparently he had been working on it for days at school; but in true Wyma fashion, put off until Wednesday night the hard task of condensing his sixteen page material on Marco Polo to seven note cards, preparing his poster and coming up with a costume.

Enter the question I often wonder. How much is too much help. I’ve learned the racing in to save and doing for tactic is more often than not a mistake. But, the kid really did need assistance. I’m not sure he understood how to condense material. He had read and highlighted his entire packet. Unfortunately, he missed the concept behind highlighting. Lots of lovely, non-essential material boasted bright yellow markings, presenting quite the challenge for a well-intentioned kid.

So, I stepped in to help. He needed and had asked for assistance. And I was happy to oblige by teaching the kid how navigate this uncharted territory. Could he have done it on his own? Honestly, not the way the project was intended. Sure he could have filled up seven (and then some!) note cards with information. But a little streamlining direction put some tools in his repertoire that will hopefully help him in the future.

I’ve realized and keep realizing how important it is to weigh the motives, attitude and history of a kid when involving myself in school work or projects or reports. The truth is, I rarely get in the middle of anything these days, but sometimes a lunch is inadvertently forgotten, or a paper not printed, or… with five kids there’s potential for lots of things. And I want to be there for them. They’ve got so many pressures on them, I’m happy to help when I can.

This New York Times article (From Parents, a Living Inheritance, 9/21/12) caused me to pause and remind myself to stay flex. A pendulum swinging too far one direction is usually dangerous no matter what – even in keeping my hands off in order to equip my kids. Here’s one of the thoughts I found especially interesting:

But there could be another option even for people who can’t count on an inheritance or a loan from their parents. Forward-thinking families might consider establishing a loan pool, a concept that was new to me until I heard about it this week.

“It started when my grandmother died,” said George Lewis, an 82-year-old lawyer in Quincy, Ill., one of nine siblings who grew up on a small farm and all graduated from the University of Illinois. “She had a strong belief in education. Because of her, instead of flowers, we started a fund for college scholarships.”

Today, the nearly 50-year-old fund actually lends money interest-free, and the funds are now available to scores of members of the extended clan. Any family could mimic this pretty easily and hand out loans to young adults in a number of circumstances.

The fund that Mr. Lewis has helped administer now holds $111,000, having grown larger over the years from bequests and the proceeds of auctions at family reunions. “I don’t think any of us in our wildest dreams thought it would get to this point,” said Matt Lewis, George’s grandnephew, a 25-year-old college basketball coach who benefited from the fund. “We don’t realize how lucky we are that our family has something like this.”

What a neat idea. Only a small few enjoy financial comfort passed from generation to generation through trust funds and the like. Limited funding can make things hard – especially post high school education. But I especially loved the ingenuity of this family to help each other without enabling anyone. If they borrow from the family fund, they pay back with interest. Such a beautiful way to support each other while maintaining self-esteem – the real self-esteem that comes from earning rather than being given a hand-out.

So how did the kid’s report go? Since he punted my super creative idea of wearing a bathing suit for his costume and involving the audience in a game of Marco Polo (still thinking it’s a home-run of an idea), he did great. He completely made his posterboard himself – so much better than what I would have done – and gathered the goods to transform himself from Texan to an Italian Explorer. So what if he wore jeans, a white button-down shirt, a scarf that one of his sisters helped make a vest, topped off with a hat he found in his grandmother’s closet. It worked.

“Ummm… think he might need some new pants?” one dad leaned over and whispered to me as he pointed to the major flood action going on between the bottom of my kid’s jeans and the top of his shoes.

I can definitely step in and help there… the kid is oblivious. He even inadvertently wore his younger brother’s pants to church one day. How he didn’t notice that they barely went below his knees is beyond me. I feel for the kid’s future wife.

Thanks for walking the road with me.


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