Term Papers of Endearment

How to Get a Really, Really Good Grade

You know, you'd think as mediocre a student as I was, on the rare occasion I did manage to pull down an "A” I'd be pretty darn proud of it, but then you haven't heard the story of this particular one.

I earned it for a big hairy term paper, the kind everybody dreads, that accounts for about 75% of the whole semester grade. Apparently the teacher assigned it the first week of school. I say "apparently” because not being one of her students I wasn't actually sitting in class at the time – my daughter was. I only came into the picture about two weeks before the final paper was due. That's when I stepped in and rescued the whole project from certain failure. Or so I thought. Here's how the whole ordeal unfolded.

Lauren came home from school one day in seventh grade and asked, "Mom, can you take me to the library this afternoon? I need some books for my ‘Famous American' term paper in English.”

"Sure” I said. "Who's your subject?”

"Vanna White.”

To my credit I didn't freak out…exactly. I merely suggested that perhaps there might be someone a bit more, shall we say, noteworthy. Someone who contributed something noble toward the shaping of our great nation – perhaps in the field of science or medicine or education. Or at the very least someone about whom the requisite number of biographies (six, according to the assignment sheet, which my daughter fished out of the bottom of her backpack) had been written.

We ended up going with Norman Rockwell. The fact that my thirteen-year-old had never even heard of the renowned illustrator is irrelevant. The point is that we found an entire shelf of books at the library devoted to his life. Way to go, Norman!

The next task on the assignment sheet was a visual aid, and as anybody who knows me would attest, this was right up my alley. As luck would have it, I happened to possess a calendar featuring the illustrator's most famous Saturday Evening Post covers, which I (oops, I mean we) cut out and arranged artistically on a large poster. Then I left for the grocery store, but only after instructing Lauren to letter his name across the top. I returned an hour later to discover she'd painted "Norman Rockwall” in big bold blue letters. Alas, I had no more calendars to cut up, so the misspelled title remained.

The following Sunday morning while sitting in church I noticed my daughter quietly reviewing some handwritten notes on a small stack of 3x5 cards she'd taken from her purse. The first one said "Norman Rockwell: Born Feb. 3, 1894 New York. Went to Chase Art School.” The title of a biography was scribbled underneath. The next two note cards said basically the same thing, but were attributed to different publications. The fourth, fifth, tenth, and even twentieth note cards similarly listed the artist's birthplace and early education, but that was about it in terms of information. My quizzical expression must have given me away because Lauren plucked a pencil from the pew rack and jotted the following explanation on the back of the Sunday bulletin: "Have to turn in 20 note cards from 6 references tomorrow.”

At that point the preacher could have donned swim fins and a football helmet to finish his sermon and I wouldn't have noticed, so unnerved was I about this startling revelation. It was clear what my daughter had done. She'd read just enough from each book to fill the mandatory number of note cards, and that was it. Twenty note cards gleaned from six thick biographies and the poor guy hadn't even managed to make it out of high school yet. "We'll work on this when we get home” I hissed under my breath.

Two hours later, surrounded by a mound of books the two of us managed to construct a workable timeline of Rockwell's career. At first I was merely offering a bit of guidance, that's all. But four days later, when it came time to actually write the paper, I'll admit that I was perhaps just a teensy bit more involved than I should have been. Translation: I practically dictated the whole thing to her word for word. What's worse, after she went to bed that night I reopened her file on the computer, ostensibly just to review her work, but within minutes my busy little fingers were flying over the keys, tweaking phrases here and there, inserting quotes, and bringing the narrative to life in such colorful prose that even the Pulitzer Prize Committee on Literature would have been impressed.

Lauren's English teacher, on the other hand, was not – and the grade she gave my poor little daughter reflected her opinion. When the paper was handed back a few days later, circled in decisive red ink on the cover page (which had been perfectly typed by me, of course) was a big fat "C”. Then, as if to underscore the point, she added "Your mother gets an ‘A'.”

Like I said, as few "A's” as I ever got you'd think I'd be proud of this one, and (promise you won't tell anyone) the truth is, I kind of am. I mean – well, you should have read that paper. It was awesome!

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