My daughters finished 2nd grade and now at 8 years old they have declared themselves to be “tweens.” I personally thought the whole tween thing was for ages 10-12, the real prepubescent years with middle school and all those horrors. But no, Time Out Kids had an entire tween issue and right there on the cover it said ages 8-12 and if it’s in print, especially full color giant sized print, my daughters take it as gospel. They will go to sleep away camp for one week this summer, for the first time. Next year they will be in 3rd grade, starting standardized testing and being a part of the “upper” grades. Whether I truly think of them as tweens or not doesn’t really matter, the sad truth is they are growing up and there is nothing I can do to stop it.
As if this weren’t already weighing on my mind we spent a weekend taking in two great shows that hammered in the nostalgic, heart wrenching reality of childhood’s inevitable demise. On Saturday night we went to the Papermill Playhouse’s production of Peter Pan and on Sunday watched Disney’s Toy Story 3 in IMAX 3D. Everyone knows the story of Peter Pan – the boy who refused to grow up and gave up a chance at a real family and real love as a result. Like all good stories Peter Pan changes as the reader ages. When I was in 4th grade I played Peter Pan in a school performance. On the most basic level the musical is wonderful, full of witty and rich songs, colorful characters and perfectly drawn characters. But when you’re a child the sad character at the end is really Wendy who got old and is now a boring old mom who watches her daughter fly away for an amazing adventure in Neverland. Seeing the play as an adult I just felt bad for Peter at the mercy of his petulant, immature ego and constantly looking for new lost boys to follow him and new little girls to play mother to his pretend father. (The other thing that was glaringly apparent seeing the play as an adult is that both Peter and Captain Hook are perhaps two of the biggest narcissists that ever walked the stage. But that’s a an examination about manhood vs. boyhood that deserves its own post, or Master’s thesis!)
I watched my daughters intently during Peter Pan. They were completely entranced. The flying of course is always spectacular and as I said the execution of the show from cast, to choreography to direction was flawless. But at the end both of my daughters couldn’t understand why Peter would go back to Neverland rather than stay with the Darlings and have a real family. To them Neverland didn’t seem like a fantasy come true – it seemed like a place with kids who needed someone to take care of them. I never thought of it that way, after all the entire conceit of Neverland is that never growing old is the ultimate wish, but it’s more of a wish of an adult looking back than of a child looking forward.
Toy Story 3 was another matter. While the mother’s quiet dismay at sending her son Andy off to college plays in at the every end of the film it is Andy himself who has to make the brutally conscious choice to give up the symbol of his childhood, Woody the cowboy, and leave childhood behind for real. While of course I cried like every adult I’ve spoken to who saw Toy Story 3, my daughters cried even more. Now, one of my daughters always cries at movies when they get the least bit sad or sentimental and always has. It’s one of the reasons she hated going to the movies. She does not like having her emotions manipulated. But, she gave into it this time and just sort of went with it instead of being scared by it. For my daughters the thought of giving up their beloved stuffed Monkey or blanket was horrifying. They could not fathom how Andy could give up his most prized toy friend to another child. And because the movie was so beautifully done you could see that Andy couldn’t quite deal with this decision either. It’s one thing to make that inevitable march towards adulthood because that is where the thread of time is pulling you, and another thing entirely to make a wide-awake decision to abandon a cherished part of your younger self.
As a mom I am constantly torn between wanting my daughters to mature and take on more responsibility – pour your own cereal and milk into a bowl for god’s sake! – and then wanting it all to slow down and be thankful that they still want to crawl into our bed in the morning and cuddle. They also seem to be struggling with wanting to remain in that fuzzy babyish realm of childhood and move forward into the adolescent world of making their own decisions, keeping secrets and taking on new responsibilities. Spending a weekend with Peter Pan and Toy Story 3 made it abundantly clear to them and me that while growing up cannot be avoided it’s not something any of us need to rush. And yes, my daughter already told me her stuffed monkey will be going to college with her. I don’t doubt it.