Friday, September 25, 2009

I Don't Like that Nanny

I read Mary Poppins last night. (but it won't be last night by the time I post this)

Now I must say that my feelings about the book might be slightly clouded from what I know about the author, P.L Travers. I didn't feel much love for this author who acted ashamed of being Australian, and separated her son from his own twin.

Still, even without knowing about the author, I don't think I would have liked Mary Poppins. I had heard that the book version of her is dark. I wasn't quite sure what that meant. A little wicked? A dark sense of humor? A bit moody sometimes? Maybe she's warm and loving, but a bit firm? I think I could have liked a woman like that.

Mary Poppins, though, is a vain uptight snob. She's a total bitch. But all this is forgiven because she's MAGIC. She takes the kids on marvelous adventures. She talks to dogs in front of them. She has medicine that changes flavor. She has a magic compass. She has all kinds of cool stuff in that carpet bag of hers. But she's NOT nice. She's cold to the children. She rarely smiles. She doesn't show affection. She lies to them, and invalidates their experiences. After they've experienced magic and try to talk about it, she insists it never happened. She even goes as far as scolding them for discussing it.

Mary Poppins doesn't seem to like the children in her care. She treats them as if they were a nuisance.

The children don't seem to mind at all. They like Mary Poppins. They grieve when she leaves. They prefer magic to nice. It's not surprising that these kids like her. They didn't love their previous nanny. What was that nanny's crime? She was old, fat and smelt of barley-water. There's no mention of her being abusive or irresponsible. She simply wasn't young and attractive enough. Mary Poppins is attractive. She makes sure of it by frequently looking in mirrors.

Now it is of course important to look at the time period in which Mary Poppins was published. 1934. In these days, a lot of people were probably still following the parenting advice of people like John Watson. There was the idea that parents (and caretakers) should treat children with emotional detachment. If you give your child too much affection, you'll ruin them. Despite all the modern parenting advice that opposes that viewpoint, some parents today still cling to that old-fashioned idea.

I think though that most of us believe at least a LITTLE warmth should be given to children. If we had a choice between nannies, I think we'd pick Maria Von Trapp over Mary Poppins. Maria can't do magic, but she's so loving and understanding. She's patient and kind. Her happy enthusiasm is contagious.

In the book, Alex the Life of a Child by Frank Deford, little Alex fills out an All-About-Me project. One of the questions asks what kind of friend she'd like. Does Alex prefer a friend who is cute, funny, rich, or nice? Alex underlines nice. When asked why, she responds simply Who wants a mean friend?

Sadly, I think many people DO want a mean friend. We like nice people, but we tend to have this attraction to people who are physically beautiful, super talented, famous, funny, and rich. Sometimes we will ignore the nice people and give more attention to the mean people who have traits that we find intriguing and attractive.

The good news is that there are beautiful women and handsome men who also happen to be super nice. There are nice, rich people. There are nice, funny people. There are nice, smart, and talented people. There are even nice, famous people.

But then there are these people who think that since they have these certain gifts, they don't really need to bother with being nice. A model might have so many men fawning over her, she decides she can treat all of them like crap. Why not? They still hang matter how mean she is to them. A chef might be so talented with food that he doesn't need to be nice to the restaurant patrons. His veal is so tender. He can be as rude as he pleases. He knows people will keep coming back.

When I was recovering from my eating disorder, a light bulb went off in my head. It doesn't matter how thin I am! It matters how NICE I am! People like people who treat them with kindness. People like people who will listen to them, laugh with them, and comfort them when they're sad.

Now unfortunately I've come to realize that this is not always true. Hopefully, they're in the minority, but I do believe there are some people who care more about what you look like than how you treat other people.

The sad truth is we live in a rather shallow world. We no longer live in the 1930's, but we still live in a society where people would prefer an attractive magical cold-hearted nanny to a fat and old one.

I wish we lived in a world where kindness was valued over everything else. Now I'm not saying I expect people to be nice ALL the time. There are valid reasons for bad moods and bad tempers. Your boyfriend died. You have bad period cramps. You lost your job. You have a headache. Your mother doesn't like your vampire girlfriend..... We can't be happy, friendly, and loving all the time.

I think we simply need to remember that things like beauty, talent, fame, wealth, and magical powers should NOT be included in the list of valid reasons to be rude, cold, cruel, and obnoxious.