“All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!’ This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.” ― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
Everyone has heard of “Peter Pan Syndrome”. It is generally used in a derogatory way to describe a man (or woman) that is stuck in a perpetual state of adolescence or childhood, neglecting responsibilities and focused only on having a good time. We’ve all seen it. There is always the friend or associate from our earlier years who continue to party like they are still in high school or college, trying to recapture their glory days. They call, text, instant message to say they are going to the club, the bar, the party and may or may not ask you to come along. They seem genuinely baffled when you decline citing work, family, lack of funds, or just plain fatigue. They feel betrayed by your failure to hold onto the pleasures and good times of childhood. They go through their years planning spring break getaways and purchase games and toys, though the prices have increased with their chronological years in a way their maturity just did not. They seem to genuinely be able to shake off or ignore the cares and worries that plague the rest of the world. Fear for the future appears to be an alien concept, and instead, these blithe souls shift through their time on the planet expecting that all things will work out just fine, bills will miraculously get paid regardless, and relationships will work themselves out… or not, and it matters little as long as a good time is had by all (or at least them).
This is the alleged profile of the perpetual child who never grew up. I always wonder whether I am jealous of these perennial children with their life given solely to the pursuits of pleasure and play; or am I genuinely sorry for them as they distance themselves from their associates of childhood, their contemporaries, and potential colleagues, while continually seeking the companionship of strangers as their play groups grow in maturity yet they remain stuck in their eternal childhood with lack of understanding or desire for the adult world of distress and eustress?
That being said, I do not believe that everyone out there is susceptible to the Peter Pan Syndrome. In fact, there are some people that appear to be “born old men/women”. These are the people that always seemed to be thinking ahead, even as actual children. No risks taken in the passion of youth, because it just wouldn’t be prudent or contribute to the solid plan for their responsible life and future; always avoiding the idea of a good time if it might be unplanned and go against the blueprint of stability. However, for the rest of us, there is another category. I’ll call us Wendy, because Wendy grew up. It isn’t an actual desire for maturity or a regret that it happens. It just happens. At some point, like Wendy, we leave Neverland and stay in the real world to go on with our lives. We cannot go back, because when you live and grow up in the real world, you lose the innocence and lack of fear and worry that allows you to experience great adventures.
The truth is, being a grown up isn’t all bad. There are a good many physical and emotional experiences that just cannot be appreciated to the same degree as a child. Certain aspects of life and accomplishment seem to mean more as we have a greater understanding and closer communion with the eventuality that greets us all in the end. Additionally, the experience of parenting with the joys and not so joyful experiences are not something that the child should be required to experience (though some have, I know). It is still possible to have fun as an adult. It doesn’t have to be all work and no play, as evidenced by the number of people who manage to hold down careers, family interaction, and have a decent time in their recreational pursuits. Not to sound like the cliché, but with power of choice and responsibility for the choices made comes some not small satisfaction and joy when those choices result in success and happiness. There is still some envy towards those who have that childlike faith that all things will be just fine, even if the reins are dropped for a while just to enjoy the wild ride; and there is also some resentment that the Wendys of the world must carry the responsibility for all the Peter Pans who can’t be bothered to worry about the future.
Sadly, I think that somehow Peter has gotten a bad rap over the years. Everyone gets stuck on the whole perpetual childhood thing as a lack of maturity and responsibility, but they forget the more important part of what Barrie wrote into Peter Pan: The simplicity and innocence that allows the child enjoyment and play but that eludes adults and is lost with increasing years to never be captured again. Yet Peter needed Wendy to be the “mother” for all the lost boys. Without Wendy to tuck them in and sing the songs of comfort, perhaps even the perpetual childhood of Neverland might have been too harrowing an adventure to be truly enjoyed, and without Peter, Wendy would never have learned to fly.
Hello boy, my name is Wendy. No need to cry. I’ll sew your shadow back for you, and you can fly away to have many grand adventures.