What if Mary Poppins swore?
“A spoonful of sugar helps the f-ing medicine go down.”
Who knows how Jane and Michael Banks might have turned out? It wouldn’t have been pretty. Spoiler alert—I doubt they’d all be flying a kite as a happy family at the end.
Mary brightened a dysfunctional household. As we brace for a dark winter of isolating ourselves from the coronavirus and, physically, from each other, Mary’s example can help us get a grip.
1. Talk nice
Mary Poppins did just fine without swearing. And what would she think of someone sending a poop emoji? For shame. We can do better, people, and we can start now.
Our everyday conversations have been getting cruder since long before COVID-19, to the point where we hardly notice an obscenity anymore; curse words have lost their meaning. They’re no longer even words, just exclamation points intended to call attention to ourselves like the arm-waving inflatable tube man in front of a car dealership. And they’re usually mean and angry.
Mary would not be pleased. Let’s be less lazy and use words nicely, precisely, to express, describe, and even uplift.
And while we’re at it, keep your conversations to yourself. We’re not interested in your cell phone conversation about a boyfriend’s breakup or a colonoscopy.
Words matter. And using them with kindness, precision, and discretion is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
2. Get dressed
You’d never see Mary in pajamas, not even on a Zoom call.
She enforced bedtimes, made a plan for the day and followed the schedule, “spit-spot,” and she insisted on finishing the job—“well begun is half done.” Don’t be a pandemic slob. You may just find that getting dressed improves your mood. I know it improves my outlook.
In fact, over the opening credits, before being called to duty, she sat in the clouds powdering her nose and inspecting herself in her compact, making sure she was presentable for whatever might happen.
3. Put the phone away
Mary listened. Not once was someone talking to her as she scrolled through tweets on her phone. Bert the chimney sweep summed up the lesson of paying attention as he lectured the father about not spending enough time with his children:
…child’ood slips like sand through a sieve
And all too soon they’ve up grown
And then they’ve flown
And it’s too late for you to give
Being present for each other will help us all get through these next few months together.
4. Calmly focus on what’s important
When Mary presented herself to George Banks for the job interview, he wondered how she managed to be holding the children’s job description that he had ripped up and thrown in the fireplace. She ignored his puzzlement, instead listing her qualifications in comparison to the bullet points listed by Jane and Michael, even keeping her cool enough to negotiate wages and days off.
Mary let her actions speak. Here’s what happened when straight-laced George was vexed about her latest escapade:
George: Will you be good enough to explain all this?
Mary: First of all I would like to make one thing quite clear.
Mary: I never explain anything.
And with that she marched up the stairs.
Mary also masterfully employed the technique of agreeing with opponents and making the boss think it was their idea. When the kids didn’t want to go to sleep, she said stay up then, and sang them a stay-awake lullaby. When George chastised her frivolity, she said quite right, and introduced him to his great idea he never knew he had of taking the children on an outing to his workplace.
5. Practice compassion
If you want to feel better, do something for someone else. Mary passed this wisdom to Jane and Michael, urging them to buy a bag of birdseed.
Come feed the little birds, show them you care
And you’ll be glad if you do
Their young ones are hungry
Their nests are so bare
All it takes is tuppence from you
Mary knows a little kindness makes a huge difference. Acts of kindness make us feel relevant, necessary—and they may just increase those endorphins which make us feel oh-so-much better.
6. Don’t get discouraged
Faced with the drudgery of tidying up the nursery, Mary declares, “It depends on your point of view,” famously launching into her “Spoonful of Sugar” libretto, and observing that a robin working to build a nest “knows a song will move the job along,” showing she’s also a supporter of the arts.
Even the end of the party is no reason for gloom, as Mary declares, “Enough is as good as a feast.”
When her entrepreneurial and opportunistic sidekick Bert, sometimes a chimney sweep, sometimes a busking one-man band, sees his elaborate sidewalk chalk art washed away by the rain, he chirps, “There’s more where that came from,” then takes an immediate sharp turn toward his next business venture, saying, “It’s lovely hot-chestnut weather.”
7. Have fun
Stern as Mary was, she was all about a good time dancing on the rooftops, jumping onto a magical carousel, or cavorting with people who laughed so hard at lame dad jokes they rose to the ceiling. She even found her rum-punch-flavored medicine an understated “quite satisfactory.”
Fun is infectious. Mary’s cheeriness filled the the household—even the normally bickering servants were suddenly smiling and holding the door for each other. “Mary makes the sun shine bright.”
Mary never ran from a challenge. Even when she faced getting fired, she met it with class and cleverness. She always figured out what was coming and made the best of it, even mastered it—in case of a storm, she carried an umbrella.
Like Mary, we’re waiting for the wind to change, and maybe her example can show us how we, too, can be practically perfect in every way.