The good life according to Wheaton kids

By Emily Nordhausen

Sitting in Lower Beamer for any amount of time, one is presented with a fascinating cross-section of humanity. Students bolting through in pajamas for the 9:20 class they overslept, sipping coffee with professors or arguing over group projects present a wide array of personalities. But amid the antics of college youth a casual observer is certain to encounter the presence of individuals significantly younger than your average Wheaton student. Dragged along, stuffed animals in tow, because of sick days, half-days or sudden changes in plans, the children of faculty possess a unique perspective of the school, its students and of course, Professor Mom or Dad. They speak without filter and provide imaginative depictions of college life.

Significantly smaller and more talkative than your typical student, Melanie Weber (8), daughter of English professor Ben Weber, enjoys sipping hot chocolate in the English department. Surrounded by the humanities students she has wrapped around her finger, the four-foot third grader is a confident sovereign. She wields the power of her toys, Thor’s hammer and Harry Potter’s wand, fearlessly, often carrying them with her as she summons her magical powers. Although Melanie believes her power comes from the magical tools she brandishes, the college kids know the truth. Melanie is magic. Effortlessly casting spells with her sweet smiles and sharp wit, Melanie’s primary power is making friends. Her charisma and sense of humor reel students in, and before they know it, they find themselves captivated by the imaginative little girl.

When not recruiting new friends, Melanie can be found commanding her dedicated troop of English majors. “I don’t need to be a professor for students to listen to me,” she says. “I don’t even have to walk if I don’t want to. I can get piggy-back rides.” The bulk of Melanie’s followers are students who studied abroad with her family last summer. One of the youngest participants of the 2019 Wheaton in England program, eight-year-old Melanie, is a pro traveler, mature museum dweller and active learner. At any point in the trip one could find her in the center of a student group engaging her collegiate peers in games of make believe.

Always helping others, Melanie thinks her vocation is to teach people new things. “I think I want to be a professor, maybe. But only if I can be like Marie (former English Department Academic Coordinator) and give people brownies and hot chocolate. She makes people happy and is very nice. I like that. But I also would give lots and lots of homework. I’m a hard teacher.”

Melanie isn’t the only campus kid who envisions herself working in a college setting. Freya Norquist (8), daughter of Benjamin Norquist, Managing Director of Wheaton’s Center for Faith and Innovation, also aspires to be a teacher. Snuggling back into the comfortable depth of the soft grey armchair in her dad’s office, Freya can often be found reading the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series, a collection of books she suggests Wheaton consider as its next CORE book. A story of a woman in an upside-down house who helps kids solve their problems, “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle solves a new problem each chapter, so you feel good too,” Freya said.

Swiveling side to side in the desk chair, Freya’s twin brother, Soren (8), chimed in, suggesting “Harry Potter” would make a better pick for Wheaton’s CORE book. “I don’t even care which book . The Harry Potter series is action packed and keeps you excited. It also has a higher lexile — I mean, not college level, but they are pretty thick books — college students would like them.”

Prolific readers, the twins are seldom seen without books in tow. Both Freya and Soren love reading because they enjoy learning new things — another part of why they enjoy hanging out around campus. Freya enjoys wandering around with her family and observing the college kids. Yet, when it comes to observation, Soren prefers planets to people and thinks the Astronomy Observatory is the coolest part of campus. Unfortunately, the night he went to visit, he said, “You couldn’t really see anything. Maybe like one star, but it wasn’t a lot.” He looks forward to visiting again in the future. After all, Soren would like to be a science major. Unsure of exactly what this would look like, he has decided to keep his options open and pursue a minor in arts and crafts with a certificate in history.

A Renaissance woman in her own right, Freya also expresses passion for pursuing a multi-disciplined liberal arts education. “For my major thing, oh man, I’d probably do engineering. Maybe with a minor in different humanities and I think history for a certificate.”

The twins’ ambitions may seem like a heavy course load to carry, but the kids are passionate learners with life missions to accomplish. Teal shoes kicking back and forth excitedly, Freya lit up as she proclaimed her vocation, “helping people understand about Jesus Christ and God.” In her eyes, fulfilling her vocation and “not having your siblings argue with you” is the perfect recipe for achieving the good life.

Glancing up from his copy of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” Soren leaned forward in his seat. “I think the good life is world peace. That includes your siblings and it means that nobody at school gets punched in the face or kicked in the shins.” To help the world reach his definition of the good life, Soren believes he has a very specific calling. “I want to be a civil rights worker like Martin Luther King Jr. and help people around the world to have rights. I also like creating so I want to be an inventor. I am interested in all kinds of work.”

Of course, to fuel such big thoughts, growing kids need steady sources of snacks. While neither “Bean Bag Museum” of the children care for Stupe because of its massive portion size, they both enjoy getting to eat at Saga. According to Soren, Saga “has all the food I have ever wanted, and it is all in one place and I can eat as much of it as I want and it’s awesome!” Freya is slightly more critical, claiming, “The food doesn’t leave me satisfied, but the soft-serve machine is amazing. I like Sam’s sherbet the best though.”

As it turns out, Sam’s is a popular destination for children who enjoy both its proximity to the game room and its yummy treats. Riley Stolze (12) thinks the café’s chai tea lattes make the perfect afternoon pick-me-up, especially before a game of ping pong. However, students are unlikely to encounter the bookish twelve year old, whose mother is Dr. Hannah Stolze, Director of the Wheaton Center for Faith & Innovation, and Associate Professor of Marketing & Supply Chain Management, in Lower Beamer. Preferring to sit in on her mother’s classes, Riley participates with all the alacrity and attention of a first semester student.

If it weren’t for her diminutive stature, one might mistake Riley for a full-blown Wheatie. Featuring jazz, percussion, piano, guitar, ukulele and ballet, Riley’s schedule is more jam-packed than that of a senior double-tagging her way through gen-eds. Not that Riley would ever procrastinate like that. To the contrary, Riley is a world traveler who has been on two Iron Sharpens Iron (ISI) study abroad programs, exploring both Asia and Europe. These traveling expeditions have given Riley a passion for experiencing other cultures. “I like to travel because it gives you a cool view of how you live compared to how others live. I think my vocation is something I will understand in the future, but I know the good life would be having a job where I could see the world. I want to know more.”

Although she hasn’t made any official decisions, Riley thinks Wheaton would be a nice school to go to for college but hasn’t ruled out Universitas Pelita Harapan (UPH) in Indonesia. Twirling a sunflower charm in her fingers, a trinket from a study abroad friend, Riley recounted memories of her time in Asia. “I like trying new things” she said. Opening a crumpled bag of Chinese candies and Korean soda, she pulled out a fruit-flavored wafer. “These are from one of my mom’s students. She and I did ISI together. Wanna try one?” Together, we tried the different flavors. Pulling down the sleeves of her long blue sweater, she looked at me curiously. “What do you think?”

Inquisitive and constantly trying to understand other people’s ideas, Riley is quiet and observant. Her intuitive nature is one of her strengths and makes her an empathic listener and great conversationalist. This unbounded curiosity isn’t limited to understanding people. Adjusting her glasses, Riley expressed her passion for studying anything new. Right now, her major is undecided, but she has a wide variety of interests to choose from. “I think I might want to study biology. I like astronomy too, though. Stars and space are really cool.”

Stars and space are incredible, but for Peter Ryan (4) the natural science museum is where it’s at. On any given Monday or Friday afternoon, students passing by the first floor of Meyer Science Center will not only see but also hear Pete as he exuberantly screeches with delight, burrowing into the biggest pile of bean bags he has ever seen. “The bean bag museum,” as he endearingly calls MeySci, is his favorite building on campus. “I love the fossil the best! But he never unlocks his door,” he tells me disappointedly. Once a week at 3:30, the tow-headed-boy wearing far too many layers and a navy baseball cap can be seen peering hopefully at the ancient Mastodon. Pete has a standing appointment trying to convince Perry to open his door. Twisting at the keyhole, he always makes a noble attempt at visiting his best friend, but so far, his efforts have been of no avail. After a minute or two knocking at Perry’s door, Pete enjoys visiting his other friends, the fish who dwell in the second-floor lobby. “I like the orange guy. He’s my favorite. I call him Fish.” Fish is a loyal companion, but five minutes is all it takes for Pete to wave goodbye and march to his favorite room on campus: the bean bag room.

Disregarding the taxidermied animals and crystal frogs, Pete charges past the rock cycle and into the multi-colored bags of beans. Methodically counting and stacking each one with the precision your lab TA wishes you had, the four-year-old measures out space to build a fort. Fort-building is so much fun, Pete thinks it might be his vocation — that is of course, if he can also work with trains. Wide-eyed and passionate, he tackles each new task with all his might.. “I think the good life is eating chocolate donuts for breakfast and having Hamburger Helper for dinner, but also going to the park and maybe painting.”

Ever the social butterfly, Pete enjoys engaging with his collegiate peers. Nothing makes his day more than getting to play shuffleboard with a new friend or cheering on the football players he refers to as “the Bears.” In fact, most of the collegiate children wandering about campus with stuffies and iPads in tow are exuberant individuals with a zest for life, a refreshing perspective for the overtired Wheaties taking 18 credits and leading three clubs. They offer unique and yet deeply relatable insights about the world around them, the world that grown-ups take for granted. For instance, Soren suggested Wheaton change its mascot. “Thunder doesn’t make sense. We should be the owls. Owls stay up late and get to sleep in the day. I hate the day. I just want to drift off.”

If that doesn’t sound like a sleep-deprived sophomore who over-booked every possible aspect of his schedule, what does?

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