Wendy’s a story is about a couple called Mr. and Mrs. Darling, who had three children and a dog named Nana. When Mr. Darling tied Nana in the yard, the children flew away to Neverland. Wendy asks her listeners to think about the heartbroken parents, but the boys don’t really care about them. The next thing that happens in the story, says Wendy, is that the three children return to their parents’ home, but they are already grown-up. Their parents are there waiting for them with the window open – so “great is a mother’s love.”
Wendy’s great mystery is the apparent ease with which she moves between the roles of the child and the adult. She believes in the love of mothers, and she also believes in the indifference of children – in their right to leave without a word, to stay away for a lifetime, and to receive love in return. In Neverland she is both a child, because she has left, and a mother, because she loves unconditionally.
The children are delighted by the story: as the narrator says, it allows them to do as they please in the safety of unconditional love. But Peter hates it. “You are wrong about a mother’s love,” he says to Wendy. He once felt about mothers as she did, he says; but when he returned to his old house one day, after many years of adventuring, his window was locked and there was a strange boy in his old bed.
Perhaps Peter’s mother did forget him; but it is more likely that Peter stayed away for a hundred years, that it wasn't even his own family that lived there any longer. And even the ideal story about a mother’s love cannot do away with the future. Peter’s heartbreak about mothers may really be a knowledge of endings and a refusal to accept them.
Wendy is stricken with fear, and she decides that she and her brothers must return home that very night. She is not sure Peter is right about mothers, but she is afraid nonetheless. Peter is very hurt, but he pretends not to care. He heard that breathing very fast kills grown-ups, so he breathes as fast as he can. The lost boys are sad to lose Wendy, too, and even consider keeping her hostage until the gentle-hearted Tootles intervenes. Peter politely arranges for the tribe to guide them to shore, and for Tinker Bell to accompany them back to England.
Though Peter may seem to be acting merely petulant, his position is a tragic one. By telling Wendy that mothers are inconstant and unreliable, Peter has made his own mother of the moment inconstant and unreliable – at least with respect to him. He has been abandoned again. Perhaps Peter’s heartlessness is not a form of inexperience, as it is for other children, but a defense against it.
When Wendy sees the boys’ disappointed faces, she invites them to come with her. She assures them that her parents will adopt them all. They joyfully accept the offer – all but Peter. Wendy can see that he is miserable, but he pretends to be cheerful, and says goodbye with a chilly politeness. They are just about to go, when aboveground they hear the beginning of an awful battle between the pirates and the tribe.
With each moment, Peter seems more and more adult. What is childlike about forced politeness? The politeness is a form of excellence, but it is an excellence very far from the impulsive self-absorption of a child. It seems at times that Peter did grow up after all, in his own way.