The Dress That Twirls: Redefining Peter Pan Syndrome

“I want the dress that twirls,” Mary Beth protested to her mother. We were headed out to enjoy an Easter Sunday stroll around town when she suddenly requested this outfit change. I immediately thought, “What is the dress that twirls, and why does this three year old believe this dress is best for our outing?” Mary Beth is an extremely smart and thoughtful toddler; therefore, I knew there was more to her request than just a dress change – and I was right.

As we walked around Georgetown, we saw a small park beautifully decorated with cherry blossoms. Mary Beth got out of her stroller and begin dancing in the park and playing with the cherry blossoms. Her mother Elise turned to me and said, “That is why she wanted to wear that dress because she likes how it twirls when she dances.” Mary Beth knew, from prior experiences, that the stroll around town meant for plenty of whimsical opportunities to dance and play, and she wanted to wear the dress best suited for the occasion.

As I watched and participated in this ethereal performance, I found myself wanting to live in her world. As I jumped up and down throwing cherry blossoms in the air and running in the church yard adorned with daises, I escaped the abundant, and sometimes grappling, anxieties of my life, and I went to a different place.

It is a world where the carefree happiness of childhood perpetually exists and the stresses of adult life are never permitted. I wanted to stay in Mary Beth’s world as long as I could because I knew somewhere between when I got in my car to head back home and going to work the next morning, I would mentally go back to the “real world.”

What is the balance between the Apostle Paul’s comments that our actions must show the transition from childhood to adulthood, and Jesus’s comments that unless we become like little children, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven?

Despite the fact that I have been taking care of myself since I was eighteen years old, I’ve been told that I have peter pan syndrome to a certain degree. This description wasn’t bestowed upon me because I fit the classic definition of those who suffer from this syndrome. It was given to me because, in spite of many hardships that should have noticeably scarred my heart, I have maintained this youthful soul. 

Recently, I begin losing my peter pan syndrome. The negative experiences and disappointments of living in New York started to steal my youthful exuberance. I thought maybe I do need to grow up and these problems are necessary for change, but the affect on my attitude wasn’t positive so something was amiss with my conclusion.

My struggle demanded a change in my approach to relationships so there was a “growing up” element involved, but even greater than that, I realized that for the first time I am in a place where I can’t even remotely solve my problems, and I have to trust God with childlike faith more than ever if I want to come out of this with my soul unscathed. It is a divine spin on my peter pan syndrome.

As a daily reminder of that happy place where I can exist as long as I have my childlike trust in God, I keep a picture in front of me from that magical Easter Sunday where I twirled with my tinkerbell, Mary Beth.

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