The three-year-old in the Jennings household has a bedtime ritual. After taking a bath and reading books with Mommy or Daddy, he settles into a large, comfortable chair in his room with one of his parents for story time. The lights go down, and the young boy gets to request two to three stories (depending on “how tired” Mommy or Daddy’s voice is). He has a handful in his archive, but since last spring, there has been a pattern, depending on the season. It started one night in early May.
“Will you please tell me a story about lacrosse?”
I quickly learned that he wanted a specific story, as in—he wanted a retelling of his attendance at that day’s game. It goes something like this (I’ll give you the extremely abridged version): Once upon a time, John, Daddy, and Mommy went to a lacrosse game. When they got to the stadium, John and Daddy went down on the field with their lacrosse sticks, and while Mommy cheered from the stands, John scored a goal (!) and the assistant coach on the field gave him a high five (!). Then the goalies came on the field, and John ran over and gave them high fives (!) and they all said, “Hey John!” Then John and Daddy went back up in the stands to have a snack, but then John heard bagpipes (!). “The team is coming!” John said.
(At this point, the three-year-old usually interrupts the story to make sure that the storyteller knows that the team doesn’t step onto the field until the drums start.)
And on it goes. Since the birth of the lacrosse story, stories about basketball and football and baseball and soccer have all been added to the rotation, as have stories about the radio station and the picnic and the trip to the “humongous” science building.
What is critical to each story—aside from John’s participation in each, of course—is the presence of Middlebury students in the narrative. They are everywhere, often willing (I think) and enthusiastic participants. There’s Basketball Ben, Basketball Aaron, and Basketball Matt; Ruby and Adrienne; Bisi; Jamie from the pool. They give him swimming lessons. They come over to his house and shoot baskets and then take him for ice cream. They volunteer at his preschool. They teach him how to say hello in Japanese. They offer those spirited high fives at games. They even teach him about tarantulas.
The thing is, as much as John’s mother and I think that our son is the greatest, the most irresistible, wise beyond his years, etc., we also recognize that Middlebury students are devoted to hundreds of Johns and Elizabeths and Lukes in Addison County; our kid benefits from this generosity, but he’s far from alone.
We hear so much about the exploits of Middlebury students—eye-popping success in the classroom, unwavering dedication in the laboratory and on the stage and athletic fields, and stunning achievements in realms previously undiscovered. (We also hear them tromping up and down some of our residential streets at 2 A.M. on the weekends, but in light of all that I’m writing about here, I’m more than willing to let that slide.) In a small town, though, where a community and an institution are intertwined, it’s the oft unpublicized acts—perhaps small and fleeting to the student, yet magnificent and life-changing to the child (and his parents)—that have the greatest impact of all.