On Saturday afternoon, T. and I had a mother-daughter outing together, along with T.'s BFF (best friend forever) J., and J.'s mom (do you have all those initials straight?). We had tickets to see a matinee performance of Peter Pan, one of my own personal childhood favorites. Peter Pan has it all, of course: fairies, pirates, magic, flying, and a crocodile bent on revenge. I have always had a special place in my heart for the story. When I was nine or ten years old I memorized the entire theatrical version of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. I had been taken to see the musical and remained so utterly entranced by the play—the characters, the story itself, the message--that I set about memorizing the whole thing so I could perform it again to family and friends. I sympathized the most with Peter: so conflicted and defiant, unable to keep forever young the ones he most wanted to.
Some thirty years later I read Peter Pan out loud to L., one evening after his bath. Hormonal and weepy following T.'s birth, I was suddenly moved to tears at the thought of a Neverland; a place where little arms would still twine themselves around your neck in that sweet childish embrace and the innocence of the young would never falter, not once. Perhaps I ruined the book for L.; careful as I was not to let him see the tears welling up in my eyes, he has always had the tendency to respond to my emotions to an incredible degree. No doubt he sensed the sadness hidden behind the adventure; at any rate, he's never been too keen on the story. I think it overwhelms his senses too much: the ferocious pirates, Hook with his missing arm, the crocodile, the babies who fall out of their prams and are then whisked away to a strange faraway place--it is a little disturbing on many levels. Peter Pan is a story of longing, filled with parents who wish to keep their little ones small, and little ones who wish to remain small until the pull of the world catches hold of them and they are flung back again into the perpetual cycle of growth and change.
So when I tried to talk L. into coming with us to the matinee, he wanted nothing to do with the play and opted instead to have HIS best buddy from school, J.T. over for a play date. They spent the afternoon conducting strange and messy science experiments in the bathroom tub. They are an odd pair, the two of them, each content to play alongside the other--not together, necessarily, but companionably, side-by-side, the way small toddlers do. J.T., in fact, is a bit like Peter Pan himself: motherless and elfin-like, and wound up like a perpetual motion machine.
When I first met J.T. three years ago in L.'s kindergarten class I was worried--I am now ashamed to remember--about J.T.'s influence on my serious, albeit quirky and often temperamental own 5 year-old (there was so much about L. that was a puzzle to us back then, in those early days of school, and we chalked quite a bit of it up to the quirkiness of an exceptionally bright and sensitive kid). Why don't J.T.'s parents DO something about his behavior? I wondered to myself as I watched him bounce about the classroom, shouting out when he felt the impulse to and careening into L. and the other kids constantly. If someone had told me, three years ago, that J.T. and L. would become best of friends, and that their friendship would be something I would so celebrate and value, I wouldn't have believed them. Of course, if someone had told me three years ago that L. would be diagnosed with Asperger's (a form of high-functioning autism) one month before his 7th birthday, I wouldn't have believed them, either. I have learned the hard way, over these past three years, not to be so quick to judge other parents based on their children's behavior--often there are underlying issues, often the parents are doing the best they can with a difficult situation, and sometimes some children are shouldering burdens they shouldn't have to at their young ages.
Both J.T. and L. have grown a lot since kindergarten--emotionally and physically, of course. They look out for each other in the classroom (if they were older they could tell each other: "I've got your back!") and they've come to depend on one another. As T. and her BFF J. snuggled together in their theater seats before the play started, patting each other's hands and giggling with excitement about what was to come, I thought about L. back home with his best friend, his buddy. I thought about how far both those boys have come since those early kindergarten days--and how far Scott and I have come as parents in learning to understand L. better, and in working hard to meet his needs. I thought about how growing up isn't such a bad thing at all, really, despite Captain Hook's belief that it is "a barbarous business" indeed. Hard as it is for the parents and even the children themselves, and despite how much we parents might want to hold onto that vision of a Neverland, there are such tremendous benefits to be found in looking back from time to time--in measuring the progress our children have made, and in taking the time to celebrate the distances traveled, and the many doors opened along the way.