His daughter leaned forward in her chair. She closed her book. Her finger, he noticed, remained in place so she could open it again in an instant.
"Daddy." She turned her head towards him. Although the whole family had packed into the living room to read after breakfast, he was the closest to her seat. "What do the people in Neverland call this place?"
The question made him sift though his childhood memories. He'd read the same book. He should have known what the children there called the real world.
"Home, I think." It was a right answer but he was pretty sure his daughter was looking for something more.
"What about the grown-ups? That's who I mean. The ones who live there. Like, it's the mermaids, the warriors, the gnomes and fairies, the pirates, and probably more folks. Do they have a name for our place?"
He leaned back and stretched his arms. His gaze swept the room. His youngest son had sprawled on the couch with a comic. His wife bent over a magazine by a casement window, shoulders hunched, forearms resting on the sill. She hated to be interrupted.
"The Mainland, maybe?" He sighed. His attention turned from his wife to his child. "My memory isn't so good. There are probably other names for our place in the book. I'm sure there would be more that aren't written."
"I know." His daughter stretched out her words as if she'd made the most obvious point to someone not understanding. "I want you to tell me the other names. That's why I'm asking."
"You want the unwritten names?" he chuckled.
His girl didn't laugh with him. She folded her arms and waited for an answer.
"Well, this place is the opposite of Never-Never Land." He closed his book. This time, he gave his daughter a moment of serious thought. "So this should be called Always-Land."
"Okay." She shook her head in agreement. Good. "But Neverland is where you don't have to grow up. That means that here in Always-Land, we're growing. Right?"
"Sure." He hadn't thought about it but of course she was being logical. "That's the point, isn't it? Always-Land is the opposite of daydreams. Here, what's important is our awareness of how things are. In our shared land, we maintain connectedness. We allow ourselves to be conscious of our responsibilities."
"That's too much, daddy."
"Okay, I make too much of awareness and responsibilities, maybe. We build those things up in our minds to be too big, too hard, and too imposing. Maybe that's why, in Always-Land, we make so many gateways to the Neverlands. Fantasy lands don't take up much space. We have room in our lives for escapes."
"Is that good?"
"Fantasies are like everything else." He drew chopping motions in the air with his open hand as he tried to illustrate the point. "Knives are good for cutting up your food. They can be used for bad things, too. If you meet someone who gets too preoccupied with knives, like to the exclusion of having friends, you probably think they're sad and a little creepy."
"I know, yuck."
"It's the same with the Neverlands we make. Do you let them do something good for you? Are you learning how to be brave or smart or a good friend?"
She turned over her book in both hands and looked at it doubtfully. "I think so."
"Or do you get overly occupied with fantasies? That's where it goes wrong."
She barked with laughter.
"It's not the poor potato's fault I'm fat," she said.
"What?" He shook his head. "You're not fat."
"That's what you said yesterday!" She raised an eyebrow at him as if he didn't listen to himself, which often he didn't.
"Oh, right. I see what you mean. I was complaining that I eat too much." He patted his stomach. "Well, here in Always-Land, we continue to develop. And it happens to us whether we pay attention to it or not."
"Why wouldn't we pay attention?"
"Good question." He lifted himself from the chair. "If we have awareness, maybe we can cultivate the goodness in ourselves. And we can let everything else just fall away as we grow."