A flibbertijibbet, a will-o-the wisp

How do you solve a problem like Lorenzo? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?”

My brain is singing these words as Lorenzo hands in his essay. I can see right away that the essay is not in the required MLA format, but I take it. I take it because the due date was three weeks ago, and I’m not sure that I’ll see that paper again if I insist that he re-format it properly. I really do like this mess of a kid, and I want him to pass. I want him to soar.

What a mess of a kid! He’s missed my class (or the whole school day) the last four Mondays. He’s been late at least two other days of every week. He rarely has a pencil or paper, but he’s been good about bringing his book (finally!). Yes, he’s in high school. And yes, he is very, very smart. In spite of my perpetual consternation with him, he is my favorite train-wreck. And I want to help him! Lots of people want to help him, especially his patient and loving parents.

Seriously, his parents are fantastic. They’re very well-educated, accomplished in their fields, interesting, and kind. They provide tutors, individualized summer school, and immersive travel programs for their son. From them, Lorenzo has learned (among many other things) how to make really interesting connections between literature and history or literature and his own life. He’s much better than many of his classmates with better grades at understanding what’s not said in books. He expresses himself beautifully in conversation, and he has a natural gift for ethical philosophy. He appreciates the relationship between one’s surroundings and personal morality. He also possesses a genuine intellectual curiosity about physics, literature, history, and much more.

So how does this shining TGV go off the rails? He’s impractical and overly optimistic, among other things.  He has friends and wants to have fun. When he has to produce something more than the spoken word, he stalls out. He has the ideas, but he has so many ideas that they compete for his focus. If he has more than one large assignment at the same time, he freezes. So, I try to chunk my work for him. I provide detailed outlines andhelp with brainstorming. I offer editing services after class. And still, the essay is three weeks late, and he is now five chapters behind in the current novel. So I cross my fingers and make a list of missing assignments with a reminder that I’ll be available by email. He’s a worthwhile and interesting minor disaster with infinite possibilities.

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