Fat Lady on a Bike: My Journey to Peace and Fitness

Join me and my wonderful Electra Townie bike on my continuing journey to inner peace and both inner and outer fitness.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Peter Pan and the Lost Boys

On Sunday afternoon, we took Alex (age 7-1/2) and Emma (age almost 6) and their parents to see an amazing, in-the-round production of Peter Pan.  It was a wonderful, magical way to introduce kids to the experience of theater, and we all enjoyed it a lot.  They particularly liked the flying against a 360-degree panoramic projection of London, while I favored the crocodile -- a huge puppet on wheels propelled by the feet of two strong young men, ticking and roaring in fine fettle.

Thinking about the play itself, however, left me feeling a lot less delighted.

The usual qualms about Peter Pan and its author have to do with whether Barrie had an unnatural interest in little boys, but that isn't what bothered me, at least not primarily.  As I watched the story unfold, what struck me was every character's yearning for a mother, even the pirates, and Barrie's apparent urge to turn all little girls into mother figures, with a corresponding lack of understanding that little girls also yearn to have mothers, not just to become them.

As someone who lost my mother at age 13, I could empathize with the lost boys and their stories of being literally "lost" -- abandoned on the street by mothers (where are the fathers?) who in some cases seemed unable to care any longer for their beloved sons and in others simply threw them away.  In Peter's case, he returned home from his imaginative flight only to find the window barred against him.  Interestingly, in this time period, when death in childbirth was one of the main causes of mortality among young women, no mention is made of the even more likely scenario of being barred from a mother's loving embrace by death.  Barrie's issue seems to be all about being rejected.  I can empathize with that, as well.

In Peter's (and Barrie's) world, what does motherhood consist of?  The main duty of the mother seems to be telling enthralling bedtime stories, followed closely by imposing the order of a bedtime ritual.  These seem kind of trivial, until you think about what they represent.  The bedtime ritual is fairly obvious, as it represents the safety of having limits set and the physical nurturing from which those limits stem.  The story-telling is a little bit more subtle.  I think it represents nurturing of the spirit, encouragement of imagination, adventure and fun -- in other words, all the things that being a boy means to Peter.

What place do fathers have in this world?  Clearly, they (as men) represent all the things that Peter hates and fears:  growing up, getting a job, being responsible, as well as setting more disagreeable limits, such as making Nana sleep outside instead of in the nursery where the children -- and their mother -- want her.  But there is an even more sinister implication in the fact that in most productions of the play, Mr. Darling and Captain Hook are played by the same actor.  Hook is Peter's arch-enemy, someone who is always trying to kill him, as Mr. Darling is the arch-enemy of his children, always trying to make them grow up and be responsible.  He, like Hook, feels he doesn't get any respect and is humored by his family the way Hook is humored by his men.  The difference is, of course, that Hook controls them through fear of injury and death, while Mr. Darling is pretty much completely ineffectual, yielding all control of the household to his wife.

One of the ironies of the play is that, despite the focus on girls as mothers, each of the female characters except for Mrs. Darling (the actual mother) saves Peter's life.  While you could regard the fierce protectiveness of Tiger Lily, Tinkerbelle and Wendy as maternal instinct, in fact they each behave in ways that are as physically heroic as Peter's own actions.  And certainly, Wendy gets to enjoy flying around London as much as either of her brothers.  In the strange and wondrous world of Neverland, girls may be mother figures, but that doesn't seem to mean simply waiting on the sidelines waiting for the boys to come home. 

On the other hand, it does seem to mean that girls spend all their energy taking care of boys. I would worry about that being the message my granddaughter took away from seeing the play if I weren't convinced that the things she's most likely to remember are the flying and Tinkerbelle's rude behavior! 

Still, as a lost girl myself, I find myself feeling sad for all the lost children and wondering what made Barrie so sensitive to that need for nurturing.  Perhaps we all need to learn to be our own "mothers" and find ways of nurturing ourselves and providing ourselves a structure in which we can function happily and productively.  I know that's what I'm working on.

And who says the theater is not relevant?

A hui hou.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

My Sister's House

I am sitting in my sister's house.  We came down here to Fort Myers, FL for Thanksgiving, as we did last year, only this year I stayed on for a couple of weeks to have some extra biking time in the warmth.  For the past week, I've been here on my own, as my sister and brother-in-law travelled to Chicago.  So I've been here by myself, eating at my sister's table, watching her tv, doing laundry in her washing machine, driving in my brother-in-law's car, and generally making myself at home in her world.

This may not seem like such a big deal.  Siblings visit each other all the time, and even borrow each other's dwellings.  But when I think how my sister and I were lost to each other for 35 years (for the whole story, see The Story of Princess S), my sitting here in her house is nothing short of miraculous.

Though we have been back in each other's lives for almost three years now, and though I have felt lots of feelings about all aspects of our shared and unshared histories, evidently I can still be sandbagged by anger and grief.  Last week, before she left on her trip, my sister and I spent a day hanging out together, talking about everything in our lives, and as it almost inevitably does, at one point the conversation turned to the past.  I heard again from her how she had been told that I was the one who chose not to have anything to do with my family, not once, but twice, when in fact I had been twice disowned.  We shook our heads sadly together at all the wasted time, and I thought that was it.  But I spent the first two days of my solitary sojourn in a fog of depression and emotional eating.  It was only on the third morning, as I rode my bike on the beautiful, exotic John Yarbrough Linear Park trail , that I realized that I had been ambushed by grief for all the time we lost and anger at our father and stepmother for their selfish, hurtful actions. 

When we talk about the past, my sister often tells me how grateful she is that our reunion has given her back some positive memories of our mother.  She's three years younger than I and managed to keep less of the good parts even than I did, in my total blocking out of my past.  But since we've reconnected and shared our memories, she's been able to connect also with our mother in some very healing and beautiful ways.  She told me that as she finally came to feel some peace with those memories, she started seeing dragonflies everywhere, and the dragonflies reminded her of the sparkly rhinestone jewelry that she loved to look through in our mother's jewelry box.  She added that seeing dragonflies now makes her feel at peace and loved.

As I rode along the bike trail in the sunshine and realized that I'd been grieving for my mommy and grieving for the years I did not have my sister in my life, I looked up and there was a beautiful, iridescent green dragonfly above my left shoulder, moving along with me.

I burst into tears.

And so I sit here in my sister's house, or drive around in my brother-in-law's car, feeling at peace, and loved, and very grateful that I have my sister and brother-in-law in my life now.  And that beautiful dragonfly is dancing in the sunlight.

A hui hou.