I have just realised from the high number of search engine results sending readers to this article that the term “Peter Pan Syndrome” is actually a medically recognised term. I would like to underline that I am not a member of the medical profession, that this post is purely humorous, and is not in any way, shape or form a medical diagnostic tool for the condition in question.
At the supermarket, my seven-year-old neighbour had a new figurine in his hand. I didn’t. He waved it at me triumphantly as he walked towards the cheese counter with his mum. My eye strayed to the display of miniature Playmobils, and I tugged at my mum’s sleeve. “Mum, mum, I want one too. Pleeeeease?” I stuck out a trembling lower lip and looked at her through lowered eyelashes. “You haven’t bought me a figurine for ages“. My mum smiled, rolled her eyes, and acquiesced.
You probably see nothing exceptional about this spoilt brat scenario. However, if I add that it was played out just two weeks ago – within spitting distance of my 45th birthday – you may just change your opinion slightly.
I have a condition that I have come to call “Peter Pan Syndrome”. As far as I know, there is no cure. This little-understood syndrome has been part of my life since the end of what most adults call childhood. At that moment, although my body continued to age, my mind didn’t. Everyone around me was growing up, and showed worrying symptoms of adulthood. They started doing weird things they’d always hated, like wearing shirts and ties. Partaking in animated political debates. Eating spinach without being threatened with an early bedtime. Watching meaningful, subtitled black and white films played by actors who talked like Pingu.
Meanwhile, I was becoming a kind of human jelly bean: an adult-shaped outer shell harbouring the psychedelic, malleable and gelatinous imagination of a ten-year-old. As everyone else started climbing the respective career ladders they had mysteriously decided on years beforehand, I looked up at them with scared incredulity: was I the only adult who still had no idea what she wanted to be when she grew up?
Now, what about you? Do you show signs of Peter Pan Syndrome?
Here is a small test for a preliminary diagnosis. When you look at this photo, what do you see? Don’t read on yet (only grown-ups cheat).
- If you saw a closed gate with a ripped mosquito net, you’re a real grown-up.
- If you laughed because you saw a little man with a wacky flame hairdo, cute eyes, a zany nose and a padlock mouth, welcome to the club: you’ve got Peter Pan Syndrome.
Read on for further telltale signs that your childhood rules your world:
- You check if your shadow really never leaves you and take pictures of it when it gives you legs up to your armpits.
- Every autumn, you jump in the drifts of fallen leaves and kick them in the air as your embarassed kids look on. You pick up conkers and play secretly with them in your coat pocket, and you’re sad when their shine disappears. You take photos of your feet in piles of leaves, because you know you’re going to miss autumn before it comes back.
- The choice of family TV viewing is difficult because you want to watch Despicable Me again, and the others give you the choice between a TV documentary about Tibetan yacks or a boy-film full of gun-toting, monosyllabic bad guys. You go into a sulk and go to bed.
- Your idea of a good evening is pulling on your Mr Men PJ’s, curling up in bed with a bag of Liquorice Allsorts and escaping into your childhood via a favourite story told by one of your favourite authors: Roald Dahl, St Exupery, C.S. Lewis or E. Nesbit.
- You cherish and stroke the 1952 copy of Peter Pan that your parents gave you when you were small, sniffing the paper and gazing in awe at your clumsy handwriting on the fly cover. Then you remember that J M Barrie invented the name of the girl who moved in on the love of your life, and you trip out on the idea of writing an alternative end to the story, in which Tinkerbell feeds her smarmy, know-it-all nemesis to Captain Hook’s crocodile.
- You measure time according to the number of “sleeps” required until the event in question occurs.
- You still draw ketchup smiles on your fried egg, and use your chips to give it hair. You keep the yolk till last. Then you spike it with your knife, imagine that the running egg yolk is lava coming out of a volcano, and save the
remaining inhabitants of Pompeïpeas from drowning in it.
- You open the front door to the infant school carnival posse, and the kids promptly point at your feet and crease up with laughter. You realise that you are wearing your favourite slippers – huge furry monster feet with fake claws on the ends.
- You love playing Lego and Playmobil with your children, but they kick you out because they have issues with Michael Jackson dangling his son over the balcony, or object to the Indians delivering horses to the castle so that the evil Prince can make his own horsemeat lasagna instead of buying it frozen from Findus. Some kids are such politically correct conformists.
- You want to go to Peru one day so that you can to go to the Home for Retired Bears in Lima, and finally get to meet Paddington’s aunt Lucy.
- Your musical idols are Robin the Frog and Baloo. You sing “Half-way down the stairs” in a squeaky voice to while away the time in traffic jams, and are partial to a group rendition of ‘Mahna-mahna” from the Muppets with your PPS-struck siblings (note to my siblings: I malove-malove you).
- You still don’t know what you want to be when you grow up. Normal: Peter Pan Syndrome sufferers don’t grow up.
Is there a treatment for Peter Pan Syndrome, you ask? I don’t know… and to be honest, I don’t want one. I can’t imagine life without one foot anchored firmly in childhood. So if you enjoyed this, clap your hands… and say that you believe in fairies.