So many people talk about having “Peter Pan Complexes.” You know, they want to stay children forever. In today’s youth obsessed culture, that’s hardly surprising. There’s a nostalgia that comes with remembering one’s childhood. Even childhoods that weren’t particularly ideal or fantastic or even happy still remind us of a time when our futures were blank, undecided, full of potential. As we grow older and our world grows darker, there is massive appeal in retreating back to the days when there was always time to write our own stories, change our fate; before the world’s problems were our own. I guess somewhere deep down we’re all probably just newborn infants, still shocked by the coldness of the world and really annoying, bright, artifical light. Maybe we’ve all just realized we’ve made a huge mistake, being born, and are trying desperately to crawl back into our mother’s wombs where it is warm and dark and safe and isolated, if a bit damp. If we can’t do that, I guess most people would settle to return to Neverland.
Neverland is that place from your childhood memories where you felt safe. That time, whether for two minutes or two years or two decades, you felt invincible, like you could do no wrong, and if you did do wrong, there was always time to fix it later. Some people never grow out of this phase. Some people realize they’ve left Neverland and fearing what they’ll find in the real world, seek desperately to return. Those are the Peter Pans. The ones who cannot and will not accept responsibility; The ones who live in the here and now, for whom the future is non-existent, irrelevant and not applicable.
On the other side of the psychologically screwed-up spectrum are those of us who spent our childhoods waiting to grow up. Our Neverland was the place where we imagined the future and planned out our lives. We found safety in the promise of a better future. I remember being shocked to discover that the majority of my classmates in kindergarten had not decided what they were going to be when they grew up. I became even more dismayed when I realized that the small minority of those who had decided planned on being fairy princesses, ponies and garbage collectors. I mean, we were almost six years old for crying out loud. It was time to make some choices.
I learned to read when my sister learned to read (she was six, I was two-almost-three), I left public school because it was moving too slowly, did two grades in one year, opened a Roth IRA (which is a type of retirment fund for you young’uns) at the age of sixteen and moved out on my own at seventeen. Now I’m stuck. I’m independent but not completely financially independent. I’m living far away from home, my family unit has mostly disbanded and my living situation is that of a post-college, single adult. But I’m still in college. I don’t have a career and have to rely at least in part on my parents to help me pay tuition and my bills. I have to act independent but I can’t completely be independent. I never wanted a normal college experience. I chose to move out on my own instead of live in residence housing during the school year and return home on holiday. I wanted to get my life started. I don’t regret the choices I’ve made at all, but I’m forced to think about the things I’m missing.
My mom always assured me that people in college were more mature; that I’d find a group here. I found my group, but it’s the Harry Potter Fandom. We can’t see each other very often and are scattered all over the globe. The majority of college students seem even more immature than anyone I knew in high school. I’m in school to learn, get a degree and get out, but because I abandoned the opportunity to live a college lifestyle, I’m living in a space and time where I have no “peers.” I feel ready for the next stage of life, but I’m bound by these collegiate restrictions and by the fact that my physical age doesn’t match my mental and emotional age.
Western society glamorizes the young adult years. We value a four-year college education, after which we’re expected to take entry level jobs, work our way up the corporate ladder and somewhere along the line, get married, get a house in the suburbs, buy a couple cart and raise a few more kids to send to college so they can repeat the process all over again. There’s nothing wrong with that. But those of us who want more than academic success, who want something different and slightly less tangible, are forced to remain outsiders. College kids are the proverbial child-in-an-adult-body. We’re supposed to enjoy partying and carefree activities, rely on our parents but somehow be prepared to face some sort of world when we graduate.
When we’re ready to face the world while still in college, we’re left alone. We’re left to wonder what we’re doing and where we’re going. We have to lead ourselves.
I’m not saying all college kids should learn to grow up and I’m not particularly nostalgic for childhood. I’m just wondering why I had to grow up so fast. What’s wrong with me? What happens now?
Okay so maybe part of me does want to be four years old and just cry about everything, punch a pillow, sip on a juice box and have Mr. Rodgers tell me that he loves me just the way I am. That was kinda nice, right?