She said she would give him a kiss if he liked, but Peter did not know what she meant, and he held out his hand expectantly.
“Surely you know what a kiss is?” she asked, aghast.
“I shall know when you give it to me,” he replied stiffly, and not to hurt his feeling she gave him a thimble.
“Now,” said he, “shall I give you a kiss?” and she replied with a slight primness, “If you please.” She made herself rather cheap by inclining her face toward him, but he merely dropped an acorn button into her hand, so she slowly returned her face to where it had been before, and said nicely that she would wear his kiss on the chain around her neck.
When Peter Pan, icon of eternal childhood and innocence, gives a “kiss” to Wendy Darling, we all go a little gooey inside and paste dopey smiles outside. It’s impossible not to melt just a bit at such a charming display of naivete.
I’ve always been a bit angry at Wendy. I never quite understood why she turns her back on Nevernever Land’s one time offer of perpetual childhood. I suppose a large chunk of my spirit idolizes the perversely stubborn boy. (In my more glorious moments, Big Friend can even attest to my ability to stomp my foot in a particularly Peter Pan-ish, peevish sort of way. I married Big Friend because he manages to find this tendency endearing. He is my Wendy Darling.)
I think tonight I’ve found new insight into Wendy Darling. It’s right there in the text, “She made herself rather cheap by inclining her face toward him…” Do you see it? Wendy turned her back on never, never growing up because she already had, to a certain extent, left behind the innocence of childhood. Unlike Peter Pan, to whom a kiss was some serendipitous treasure to be traded and hoarded, Wendy knew the adult truth. She knew a kiss from a button.
In Little Friend, I see the unadulterated, rarified innocence of Peter Pan. She has recently attached herself to a new friend. “Who?” you ask. “Ham Dog,” she replies. Looking at the white stuffed animal clutched in her arms, you put the name in context: “Lamb Chop.”
Ham Dog, aka Lamb Chop, talks in that tinny, on-demand way of stuffed animals. “Wow, you look great!” she croons. (Little Friend’s nose goes up in the air and she rotates her head primly.) “What’s your name?” Ham Dog wonders. (“Eee-Bee” Little Friend crows in response.) “Can I have a hug?” (Little Friend proceeds to squeeze the bejeezus out of Ham Dog with an overly theatrical grunt.) “Will you tell me a secret?”
Secret (as defined by the Little Friend Dictionary, 2011 Edition): An imaginary object easily grasped between two fingers and carried about in a closed fist. Secrets are most likely found on brown leather chairs or, in a pinch, on the floor next to the refrigerator. Secrets must be doled out generously to the open palm of each and every person, stuffed animal, and imaginary friend present in the immediate vicinity.
A secret is to Little Friend as a button kiss is to Peter Pan.
My heart melts when Peter Pan proffers his kiss to Wendy Darling. The day that Little Friend learns the true meaning of a secret, my heart will break. At that time, there will be no turning back for her, no re-entry to Nevernever Land.
And already, at a mere two years old, threats loom. Peter Pan faces evil Pirates, restless Natives, and ticking time bombs of alligators. Little Friend faces five-year-old girls who can sing the entire chorus of Nelly’s “Hot in Here:” “It’s getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes…” I hazard a sharp glance in the rearview mirror to catch the tete-a-tete happening in the back seat. I relax a bit when I observe Little Friend’s blank face. Apparently, she hears the lyrics and pictures removing her coat when we come inside from winter play.
A secret is to Little Friend as a button kiss is to Peter Pan.
Motherhood has turned me weepy. Show me anything remotely insinuating a child will grow up and my eyes turn red, my nose backs up, and my chest heaves unattractively. Wal-Mart, you did it me just weeks after Little Friend’s birth with that stupid commercial of a mom walking her kindergartner to the school bus. Robert Frost, I blame you, too:
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
A secret is to Little Friend as a button kiss is to Peter Pan. But the analogy will not last.
Let me share some irony here: I used to scoff at this poem. As recently as two years ago, I fobbed it off as mere AP English jabber or hackneyed Outsiders quotations. The poem, then, hit me a few months ago with a fresh blow of significance when I realized that I have a precious Golden Girl in my presence every day. I am witness to the “hardest hue to hold” in her life: her “flower” girl days of innocence. We are in the dawn of her life. It’s a brief dawn that must subside to a much longer day, bringing an unavoidable grief over my loss. Is my little blond sharer of “secrets” (shared between me, Ham Dog, and the imaginary Baby Jesus who sits on her purple plastic chair) what Robert Frost had in mind when he penned his lines?
I’ve been around the motherhood block long enough now to know that this grief over losing the Little Friend of today will (mostly) be consumed by the joy of embracing the Little Friend of tomorrow. Each new stage has seemed a more highly polished golden iteration of the previous stage.
Still, won’t something be lost when a kiss becomes a kiss and a secret becomes a secret? Is it true that nothing gold can stay?
I’m somewhat ashamed to admit I have my frazzled mommy moments, frequently occurring on those days when Little Friend clings to my leg like an unshakable shadow. How can I get dinner ready? I complain. When will I have time to read another book? I grouse. What’s a date? I muse.
I act tough. Then Wal-Mart gets to me. Or Robert Frost launches a sneak attack, and I find myself sniffling in the bathroom as I dog-ear the page of a magazine displaying the troublesome poem.
Here, too, Peter Pan speaks to me. Do you remember what brought about the initial meeting between Peter and Wendy? Peter did not have the slightest interest in girls. (Which reminds me: Little Friend will have an arranged marriage. Just give me another thirty years to screen prospective applicants.) Peter wandered into the Darling’s nursery in a frustrated attempt to reunite with his troublesome shadow:
“If he thought at all, but I don’t believe he ever thought, it was that he and his shadow, when brought near each other, would join like drops of water, and when they did not he was appalled. He tried to stick it on with soap from the bathroom, but that also failed. A shudder passed through Peter, and he sat on the floor and cried.
His sobs woke Wendy, and she sat up in bed. She was not alarmed to see a stranger crying on the nursery floor; she was only pleasantly interested.
’Boy,’ she said courteously, ‘why are you crying?’”
As Little Friend’s “growing up” looms nearer, I find myself flying around the room, grasping at a Shadow that daily moves further and further from my grasp. Like Peter Pan, I want to wrangle that shadow to the ground and sew it so tightly to me that never, never again will it elude my grasp, exhibit free will, or exert independence. I’d sew Little Friend to me in a heartbeat, if I could just figure out how.
Can anyone give me a thimble? How about a button?