On Rediscovering Neverland

The other night I read something that stopped me in my tracks. I had begun reading aloud the Puffin Classics version of “Peter Pan” to my boys when I ran across these lines describing Neverland:

“On these magic shores children at play are forever beaching their coracles. We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more.”

“Though we shall land no more” … I was instantly struck with such sadness, although I’ve known the premise of “Peter Pan” for some time now. It’s just that I’m on the other side of the story now. I’m the parent who doesn’t remember what it’s like to be a child, who is always busily completing things, who would rather dictate than daydream. I grew up.

We complete our days and live our lives, and at some point we forget. We forget who we were when the wonder of an unknown future energized our days. I still think about the future, but as an adult I’ve let fear replace wonder. I’ve let anxiety replace excitement. I’ve let research replace rest and planning replace play. But tonight when I read those words, I closed my eyes, and I remembered.

It was difficult to guide my memories away from happenings and toward feelings. At first, I remembered things that happened — holidays, basketball games, Slurpees and The Beach Boys in my dad’s ’84 Trooper — and then there it was … the feeling. The sensation of my thighs sticking to that hot seat in the Trooper gave way to the memory of manually rolling down the windows, letting my hair blow in the wind and eventually the feeling. It was freedom. It was levity. It was safety, security and possibility. It was comfort in my own skin, confidence and adventure. It was Neverland.

I remember how it felt to wake on Saturday mornings to the smell of pancakes downstairs, the sound of my mom on the phone with my grandmother and the knowing that I had nowhere to be. I would exhale deeply and gift my body the generous stretch it requested, and then I would stare into the treetops of my second-floor window, watching the morning light jump gaily from leaf to leaf. There were big moments in my 18 years at home — tryouts, heartbreaks, vacations — but those mornings are what I think about most. It was during those mornings that I felt the magic of being alive.

I’m afraid that all too often in the daze of parental responsibility, I forget that my children are just children. I stay focused on the checklist of what’s good for them: Have they had enough milk today? Did they brush their teeth well? How much screen time have they had? And so on and so forth. I need to remember that they’re in Neverland. I need to remember that they’re not ignoring my loving guidance to be defiant; they’re ignoring it because the world is just too exciting to think about milk or teeth brushing. Why would they fill their minds with such things when there are pirate ships in the clouds and mermaids in the pool?

I’m only in my thirties now, and I need to quit acting like all the chapters in my book have been written. I have arrogantly — and naively — written my memoir in my mind, and the result of that finality is the further burying of Neverland. I see magic, wonder and beauty every time I look at my children, but I too often forget it lives in me, too.