For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address
Mary Poppins was always my favorite record growing up. Yes, I said record. I wore grooves in it. I loved singing along with my Sister Suffragettes. It was actually my own personal spoonful of sugar (listening to the music) while I did my chores (cleaning my room). This was before VHS players, of course. And we didn’t go to the movies (good fundies that we were). So the record was all I had. I did read the original, however.
My boys were watching the DVD in the car this week. What I would have done to have TV on those long trips, let alone a recording of my fav movie I’d never even seen! When you listen to something behind your head, while you’re mindlessly driving around town, you hear it differently — deeper or something.
Disney produced the film in 1964. Julie Andrews, having just been rejected for the role of a cockney flower-girl, played the “practically perfect” witch/nanny in-between her roles of queen and nun (her role as a man would come much later). She beat out Audrey Hepburn for the Oscar for Best Actress that year too. Sweet revenge!
Mary Poppins ever-so-gently needles its audience to consider those who are most-often forgotten. Its story is really the same as The Sound of Music when you think about it. It’s talking to us parents more than entertaining our kids. Just like the show M*A*S*H was set in the Korean war so that it could really talk about Vietnam, Mary Poppins is set in 1910 so it could nudge parents about mid-century problems.
The second-wave of feminism hadn’t really begun yet, so Mrs. Banks’ tribute to her fellow suffragettes just seemed quaint back then. Norman Vincent Peale had not yet accused Dr. Spock of ruining America by his permissiveness, so that anxiety had not been named as such.
The stark class difference between Mrs. Banks and her hired help point up the fatal flaw of independence. The cook and maid endure their mistress’s middle-class eccentricities. They even dutifully harmonize along. But she ignores their working-class needs. Just like Mr. Banks ignores her.
And they all, for the most part, ignore the children. Katie Nanna can’t stand them. The cooks won’t tolerate them. And the rich bankers are nothing but irritated by them. The upper, middle, and working classes have no time for the children. Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Banks can even fathom minding their own children.
For the most part, each adult member of the Banks household is independent — each is an island. They work separately, on their own interests and within their own spheres. When they do cross into another’s “path,” the interactions are hollow, rushed, or predictable.
And the children mess up that predictability. Yes, they are disorderly and chaotic. But more than that, they are dependent. They defy isolation. They mess up independence. And while the adults mistakenly think that minding the children ruins their economy, their success, and their political activism, nurturing a child is a pretty politically radical thing to do.
Now Admiral Boom does watch over the children as they pass by. But not until filled-with-magic Mary Poppins “pops in” do the children get included. She flies in (literally) with a bottomless carpetbag, order, routine, and even a parallel universe — a community — full of silly words and two-dimensional animals. She introduces them to Bert, Uncle Albert, the Bird Woman — the lowest class of jobless vagabonds who simply enjoy life and, so, enjoy children.
That’s what’s so practically perfect about Mary Poppins. She knows what’s important. Enjoying children and communing as a family is the most radical thing we can do. The whole movie is like a “Carpe Diem” for parents.
I think we’ve lost that spirit again. We need more of that Poppins woman in 2009. The show is on Broadway right now. Conservative Evangelicals, especially, have caught some kind of hideous idea that the solitary adult work is more important, more spiritual, more rewarding than our children. We think that being independent is more valuable that being together. We insist that the parents are the center of the home and that children should serve the parents. What is wrong with us?
We are no different from the Banks! . . . Or worse.
Spit-spot! Stop! Enjoy life. Our children are life. Take some tuppence for paper and strings and get your own set of wings. . . . go fly a kite!