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Peter Pan is not a syndrome

These days our family life is dominated by the story of Peter Pan. I was going to say our PLAYTIME is dominated by the story of Peter Pan, but that doesn't go quite far enough. In the car, on our walks, in every corner of the house, Peter Pan's praises are being sung. And sung. And sung. And those of Captain Hook too. All week, including in public, Zion has been crooning gleefully about massacring Indians and killing little boys. For the sake of Indians and little boys within earshot, it's a good thing Zion's a little difficult to understand.

It started like this:

Harvey's friend Taya has a pop-up book of Peter Pan. Harvey and Zion saw it a few months ago at her house and instantly started buzzing. Did I know the story of Peter Pan? Could I tell it to them? What are the names of the Lost Boys? What are the names of the Pirates? Harvey has a craving for KNOWLEDGE, and each time a new story is opened to him he wants to know EVERYTHING about that world. Zion is not so particular about knowing everything, but he is happy to jump on any bandwagon Harvey rolls out, especially if it involves swords and killing bad guys and did I mention swords.

Knowing how much Harvey loves new chapter books (and how much I'm wary of chapter books written in the past half century) I checked out the original Peter Pan story from the Library. JM Barre's Peter Pan is by far the best way to enjoy the story. The text is post-modern before its time, and it pokes knowing fun at children, mothers, and prep-schooler in turn. I didn't mind reading it three times in a row.

But one day I mistakenly started singing:

"Let's be quiet as a mouse and build a lovely little house for Wendy..."

Their mouthes gaped open. There are SONGS of Peter Pan?

"Do you know more songs about Peter Pan?" Harvey asked breathlessly.

I love my children and I want to make them happy. I don't always know where something will go awry.

Over the next few days I had sung them every sond I knew from the 1950s musical. Tender Shepherd. I've Got a Crow. I'm Flying (which, I'm sorry, isn't much of a song at all.)

Their favorite was Ugg A Wugg, however, and by the time they started singing it WITH me I realized I didn't know the verses in order. So I looked it up in You Tube.

Okay, so in retrospect I should have seen that this was a mistake.

Any time my children learn that something they like is also available in VIDEO FORM? Stop everything and prepare for a battle. And not the flying fairy dust kind.

Soon they were asking to watch songs from Peter Pan EVERY SINGLE DAY. One night during Bible study I broke down and purchased a movie of the stage production. I WANTED TO STUDY THE BIBLE! The children sat with their eyes wide for the entire hour. They clapped when Peter asked if they believed in fairies.

Okay, so it was kind of cute when they clapped that they believed in fairies.

But then they were asking to watch some of the movie EVERY SINGLE DAY, Just so he could learn the songs, Harvey pleased. And because the only thing I hate more than watching shows is TALKING ABOUT watching shows, and because it was only a few dollars on Amazon, I bought them the CD.

I don't know why I haven't learned anything about parenting over the past five years. Seriously, I sound like a flippin newb.

Because now every time we get in the car it's "Can we listen to Peter Pan?" "Will it start where we left off?" "Is this ride long enough to listen to Peter Pan?"

Dan casts me a sideways glance as if to say, "What have you done to my life?"

It turns out the Peter Pan is terrible! The characters are two-dimensional and wooden. The songs are at best annoying and at worst racist. I wish I could go back in time and erase my mistake, but unlike the Lost Boys I can't push a pause button. I live in a world where children grow up, and they get more manipulative as they grow, and they know how to fill a car with a baseline level of annoyance that is just enough so that the annoyance of a boy's role sung by a 50-year-old woman will be less annoying than the sound of my children whining.

Peter Pan is the quintessential childhood hero. He gets what he wants because he's sure, carefree and violent. He flies, yes, but other than that he has no special powers other children don't possess. His power comes from his complete lack of oversight.

No one is watching over him. He has external controls. I guess they have a word for that... um.... freedom?

Yeah, on a deep level this story really annoys me. Why should this little jerk get so much freedom?

The truth about Peter Pan, which comes out in the book much more than in the musical, is that he is cruel. He might entertain you for a spell, but then leave you on a cloud by yourself with no way to get down. He is in every way a child: narcissistic, greedy, fickle. Those who follow him, the Lost Boys and the Darling family, do not have compete freedom themselves. Complete freedom only exists if you're content to trample on the freedoms of everyone around you.

I guess that's why his story is so compelling. Wouldn't my kids love to live in a world where they have so much freedom even gravity doesn't apply to them? I left my children at the breakfast table this morning, and I came back to see them standing on their chairs waving their arms.

"They're flying," Dan told me.

"I trust they know their limits," I shrugged.

They are bound by their limitations and so am I. They cannot make breakfast for themselves any more than they can fly off their seats. I have to do that for them along with a trillion other things. And so even as a fully capable adult I'm not very free myself.

I'm more like Captain Hook. I'm an enemy to freedom and a slave to the sound of a ticking clock.


Barre's got nothing on you Leah. That was a great one.

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