You know how when children are young, they know they are; and they feel impossibly limited and wish to be older, so they can have more opportunities to do the things they feel slighted from? Well, I was never one of those kids. I remember being young, knowing I was young, and thinking about how I needed to appreciate it, because already, it felt as though time was fleeting. Age passes by without even the slightest ability for us to do anything about it–and I believe this is a true disaster.
I loved being young, and in many ways I have, “Peter Pan Syndrome.” I think J.M. Barrie was a genius in his creation of Peter Pan, of Neverland, and the idea of a delightful escape from fate … the idea that there might have been a choice to it all. In some ways I feel that being a teacher and a parent allows me to hold onto a precious piece of my youth that would have been lost long ago if it weren’t for their insightful doses of perspective. Because perspective is what we start to lose as we get older. We begin to cease thinking of what would be “fun” and replace these thoughts with what would be “practical.”
Now, I pride myself on being fairly impractical most of the time. But as Peter Pan said, “The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it,” and who wants to take that chance? But we do. We doubt. We forget to remember how important pretend can be, and our pure and perfect perspective of, “anything can happen,” begins to fade. Even as an adult I am fighting this inevitable introduction to reality. I enjoy, “what if,” questions. I make up stories and climb trees. I toss on an accent when I read and polka with my ninety-two year old grandmother. I like to believe in things I cannot explain like Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster and have tried my very hardest to raise my children the same way.
I suppose I am succeeding in some ways; my daughter adamantly believes that she will become a mermaid when she grows up. When I asked her what color her hair or fins will be she stated, (with all the self-assurance in the world), “Whatever God gives me.”
My son, on the other hand, possesses the uncanny confidence of kings. Skiing since he was three, we had to watch the slope-style competitions. Staring in awe at the rail-grindings and aerial flips, I asked if he thought he’d ever compete, to which he replied, “Sure … why not?” Why not? Where did why not go? Probably in the same corner, “absolutely,” is hiding. Somewhere near the pool of lost dreams and wishing on stars.
J.M. Barrie beautifully said that, “Stars are beautiful, but they may not take an active part in anything, they must just look on forever. It is a punishment put on them for something they did so long ago that no star now knows what it was. So the older ones have become glassy-eyed and seldom speak (winking is the star language), but the little ones still wonder.” And I know he is talking about stars here, but I cannot help but think the stars are an awful lot like people. The adults have become glassy-eyed, seldom speaking of things that used to matter so much, but the young ones, children can still feel enough to wonder. But I wonder, when does the shift take place? What makes us cross over? Or is it a collection of moments that string together, growing us up bit by bit? The more you learn, the more years pass, the more responsibility you’re given, little by little these things build you up while childhood, irrevocably gets torn down.
Most of the time we can’t feel it. This incumbent stealing of youth, but I remember the last time I felt it. Two years ago, my parents moved from the home I grew up in … and let it be clear that I did not give them permission! Ready to venture on to a new stage in their lives I realize (on the rational side I so often try to ignore) they needed to. But I took it hard. Am still taking it hard, because I guess it felt like when they did … I had nowhere to be young anymore. Home was such a respite, a collection of feelings and memories I was able to see around every corner. When they began packing, it was like fifteen years of my childhood were packed into a U-Haul van along with them.
In Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie says, “Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting,” and I can’t stand to forget, so I know I never will. Because for those of us who can’t choose Neverland, someday memories will be all we have. It will be the photographs and stories and, “Do you remember when…” conversations that keep us smiling.
So the story says, “All children, except one, grow up.” We will never be able to stay young, and, as Wendy so eloquently said, “Never is an awfully long time.” But I think the children placed in our lives gift us with glimpses of the dreams we might have forgotten without the spirit of their youth to remind us. So, like Wendy … I had to grow up … but it won’t stop me from dreaming my impossible dreams, and tossing wishes up to the “second star to the right.”