Tonight, while I was watching my darling daughter Lizzi in a dual role as Mrs. Darling and Tiger Lily, so sweetly maternal in one and so commanding in the other, I remembered a passage about gender roles from Playdate. I think I might have coined the phrase the Wendy Darlings, a very different female syndrome from the Peter Pan complex. My fictional entrepreneurial mother Darlene worried the idea while driving to work after a frustrating encounter with her husband, Lance. In the play, Wendy promises Peter Pan she’ll return to Neverland every year to do his spring cleaning. Not something that would occur to Darlene – or me.
The Wendy Darlings (from Playdate)
“When had it become so hard just to sit still and play [Darlene thought]? Men had Peter Pan complexes, but women had the Wendy Darlings. The Wendys wanted to fly a little and be dazzled by pixie dust, but they were consumed with relationships and caretaking and what the neighbors thought. Wendy’s lost boys were content to fly; Wendy had to civilize. She couldn’t abandon herself to wild dancing by firelight with the Indian braves; she had to funnel them all back into London middle-class respectability. Wendy was in such haste to grow up and become the mother, that central domestic figure; to children, their mother’s skirts were the world.
As skeptical as Darlene was of Wendy, it saddened her that she wasn’t that safe maternal haven for [her 10-year-old] Belle. Lance, not Darlene, had become the Ramsays’ emotional center of gravity, the figure waiting at the window with the lit candle whenever Belle ventured outside. When Belle cried, she cried for her father. Darlene admired Lance’s gift for parenting: he had a better understanding of Belle’s needs just by listening, by waiting out her defenses with quiet talk and infinite patience. But Darlene was also a little jealous of it. She was somewhat confounded by her own emotional limits, like a person who thought she’d rented a spacious apartment and found, once she’d unloaded her furniture, there was hardly room to turn around in.