Peter Pan Syndrome

It’s my nephew’s birthday today. He’s seven years old. He likes to read, play video games, and is a powerful hitter on the little league field.

Kids grow up fast. It never seems like it when you’re wading through diapers and spattered baby food, but they do. Before you know it, that bald baby with a big head is going to school and teaching his parents things they forgot they knew.

I love watching babies interact with their world. They are constantly gathering information through all their senses and putting it into practice. I remember watching a baby next to me in a waiting room. His mother had given him a small bottle of pop to keep him busy. He grasped at it with tiny fingers, mouthed the cap, turned it, shook it, and dropped it several times.

Once kids are mobile, their explorations increase ten-fold. There’s a child at my friend’s childcare that is like a wind-up doll. You put her on the floor and zoom! She’s crawling so fast her arms and legs are a blur. Soon she’ll be like my preschool nephews, climbing anything to the highest heights, with no fear.

When kids start going to school, their sponge-like brains absorb everything, from new words, to classification of objects, to relationship dynamics among the kindergarten set. It’s not much later when they start learning values in school, and try to influence their parents. My daughter read a letter recently from the school about avoiding the spread of illness by keeping sick children home. She was sure I was breaking the rules by sending her to school with a stuffy nose.

I never want to grow up, if being grown up is a place where you “arrive” and always do what is expected. I want to keep exploring, looking at things in new ways like a baby does. I want to challenge myself physically like a preschooler does. I want to make new friends and appreciate their differences like a kindergartner does. I want to decide what’s important to me and influence others like a school-age child does.

I also want to take time to enjoy upcoming stages of growth in my children’s lives. They teach me things they learn in school, but also teach me to be a better person. As their relationships grow and their thinking becomes more complicated, I will have to keep up with them just to remain an important part of their lives.

As George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

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