Tonight’s My Evening Out

The one moment in Mary Poppins that just really went beyond anything I could conceive of doing myself?

The flying? Bringing Michael and Jane’s toys to life? Talking ‘dog’?

Nope. Didn’t have a problem imagining any of that.

The most difficult scene was when Mr. Banks loses his job. The children come into the house singing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” at the top of their lungs, and he loses it. He rails about Jane and Michael’s behavior, calls them savages, blames Winnifred and Mary for the fact that the children are acting like… Well, children. My favorite part is that he is bitching about the very behavior he happens to be exhibiting himself at that very moment. It was hard not to shout, “They learned it by watching you, all right? They learned it by watching you!”

Just as it becomes apparent that Mr. Banks is about to fire Poppins, Winnifred steps in and ushers him to his office. When Mrs. Banks returns and asks everyone’s favorite nanny to give up her night off to keep the children out of their father’s way, MP simply says, “I hope you haven’t forgotten, ma’am. Tonight’s my evening out.”

I had a really hard time with this moment. Which is nuts because Poppins is simply asking the family to honor the previously-determined agreement re: her work hours.

**

A few months back, I had a pet-sitting gig with a family that is a real piece of work. I’ve never been able to figure out if they were just socially awkward, or simply of the opinion that I was “the help” and didn’t deserve much in the way of amenities—or both.

They lived in a super-fancy, upscale apartment complex in City Centre. How fancy? The Christmas gift for tenants was a $50 gift certificate to a nearby steakhouse. Brunch is catered every Saturday morning. Free Starbucks for everyone, every day.

When I stayed with their sweet Saint Bernard (who I still think may have been a person in a dog suit) and angry orange cat, I was provided with an air mattress—in its box—a sheet and a pillow. There were three perfectly good beds in the house, but I got an air mattress that I had to blow up myself. (Note the absence of a fitted sheet and comforter from the bedding inventory. Sheesh.)

Even after Angry Cat poked a hole in the air mattress during an epic battle with my feet in the middle of the night (it was only a matter of time), they were going to patch it up with duct tape and make me sleep on it one more time before they moved to Boston. That is, until they realized that their 11-year-old was going to be at camp and “wouldn’t be sleeping in her bed again.” Nothing makes a girl feel as special as being told she can sleep in a child’s bed … only because said child will never have to use it again after my second-class ass slept in it.

Strangely, the Man Human had asked me, after my very first gig there, if there was anything they could do to make me feel more comfortable. And I said that I didn’t mind the air mattress for weekend stays, but that I wasn’t sure how my back would handle the week-long visits they had scheduled over Christmas and Spring Break. He smiled and nodded and left the air mattress for me. Every. Single. Time.

On another visit, they ran out of dog food, and I bought some at Natural Pet so the Saint Bernard wouldn’t go hungry. Man Human promised to leave cash for me to cover the cost next time I stayed. But when I got there the next time, I was told to take the bag with me and return it to the store. (Opened? Eight weeks after I bought it? FYI, the bag of dog food cost less $10 and their rent was a minimum of $4K/month.)

Like I said, hard to tell if they were clueless, condescending, or a combination thereof. Condeslueless? On a side note: I got the impression that this couple was a lot like the step-brother and his wife in Sense and Sensibility. You know, the character who starts off with the intention of giving his step-sisters 3,000 pounds to live on, but the battle-ax he’s married to talks him down to “an occasional gift of fish and game”? I suspect Man Human was like, “We need to leave ten bucks for Dinah,” and Lady Human was like, “We didn’t tell her to do that. And we didn’t even use that bag of dog food.”

The last time I stayed with Saint Bernard and Angry Cat, the family was slated to return midday on a Saturday. I was scheduled to sit with another dog that afternoon, and I had a couple of other furry friends to walk at dinnertime as well.

But when the family texted at 7am to say that Lady Human wasn’t feeling well, and they were going to wait a day and take the same flight tomorrow, I simply said, “Okay.” It never even occurred to me to say, “Sorry, I can’t.” It made my Saturday incredibly hectic. And it was offensive that they didn’t even really ask if I could do it, but simply told me there was a change of plans.

The scary part, though, is that I didn’t consider the fact that I had a choice in the matter. Even if it had been presented as a question, I would have agreed without hesitation.

When friends call me on this, I say that it’s because the pets weren’t to blame for the selfishness of their humans. And I could never, in good conscience, abandon a fur-baby even if their people happen to be assholes.

But I suspect that’s only part of it. I think the other part is that I don’t feel like I’m worth more than that.

**

I know with absolute certainty that given the same situation with the Banks, had Winnifred asked me to stick around on my night off, I would have caved and said, “Of course.” Why do I do that? Make everyone else more important than me?

In the actor’s exercise of thinking character thoughts, I often wondered what plans Poppins had that night…

But what does it matter, really? Even if her plan was scrabble with Mrs. Corry or a beer with Bert, she had every right to it.

So how do I learn to do that? To say no, to establish boundaries? [Seriously, if I were a country, there’d be no Customs.]

How do I break free from the belief that my only function on the planet is to serve everyone else?

**

Perhaps the first step is to ask if these people can live without you. If it’s truly an emergency and someone will be in harm’s way without an assist, then I think you do say yes to helping out.

But if they just think it’s an emergency because they don’t want to have to handle it on their own, and they’re taking advantage of your kindness, maybe you let them hate you a little and say, “No, that’s not what we agreed to.”

Or at the very least, “I might be talked into it if you can pay me double my usual rate.”

**

I know a big part of my problem stems from the fact that I hate confrontation and I want people to like me. [I am also aware that respect would be better than like.]

The other part of it is that I get stuck in thinking that since I don’t have a husband or kids or even pets of my own, I don’t have anything better to do. I don’t deserve it. Like it’s selfish for me to say, “No, I can’t take care of this for you,” when I don’t have anybody else to take care of.

I know I need to learn to prioritize me every now and then, because it’s a quick trip to resentment and bitterness if you don’t.

Poppins didn’t feel selfish or guilty about saying no. In fact, in the very next scene when she realizes the family doesn’t appreciate her, she packs her carpet bag and heads out—without notice!—so they can go ahead and hit rock bottom.

She outsources the children to Bert with a hasty, “Keep an eye on them for me,” and flies off to… Well I’d like to think she went to the early twentieth-century version of a spa, where she could get in a little self-care—and get a little respect.

This part of my life is a work in progress, and I know I’m going to have to practice this whole saying no thing for a while until I master it. I do deserve time to myself, even if my plans simply involve laying on the couch and watching the Boys2Men episode of Psych for the thirty-seventh time.

My new mantra?

You can serve without being a servant.

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A Walk in the Park

All that it takes is a spark… Then something as plain as a park becomes a wonderland. All you have to do is look anew… Then you’ll understand.

It’s not news to anyone that the only thing we can really control is our reaction to the crap circumstances life throws at us. We fallible humans, though—it’s so easy to dwell on the unfair. To place blame. To wallow and wander, wounded, wondering…

How happy we could be IF ONLY…

But Mary Poppins has no time for IF ONLY. You want to sing with a busker? Dance with a statue? Meet Queen Victoria?

You want to fly?

Well, come on then. Spit spot, bitches.

You may not have a choice about what you’re going through right now. Your nanny may have taken you to the park against your will. But you do have a choice what you see when your get there. Is it all just statues, ducks and grannies? Or is there something you’re missing because you’re too busy blaming the big bad world for the fact that life isn’t quite what you signed up for?

If you are interested in ending your misery, try asking yourself:

What is magical about THIS MOMENT?

A few months before I got the role, I heard a podcast about the Top Five Movement. Designed by Clare Desira, the approach suggests that you capture and list the top five moments of your day, every day. It’s similar to a gratitude journal, but better because you can’t go generic and say, “I’m grateful for my family.” Rather, you record a specific instant, like when I received a text of encouragement from my dad that said: Oh Yeah!!!!! :fist pump:

Listening to the podcast, I thought, “What a great idea!” But it wasn’t until I was in rehearsal, hearing Bert sing the intro to “Jolly Holiday” that I started to put it into practice.

I revisited Clare’s website, and putzed around online until I found her Ted Talk: Honesty and the Top Five Movement, and I’ve been on the bandwagon ever since.

What I love about it is that I am compelled to keep an eye out for the beauty, to focus on the good stuff in my world.

There is plenty of bad stuff, I know. I get it. We can’t—and shouldn’t—ignore the shit. But honestly, I used to have days where I was so overwhelmed by just how shitty people can be, it was hard to get out of bed—let alone smile. It’s tough to fight to make the world better from a prone position, eh?

But making a conscious effort to see the wonderful things that also exist in this ridiculous world of ours? The world is not just bearable, it’s extraordinary.

Take September 20th, for example…

The Top Five makes me more present, attending to my world rather than just numbly passing through. And it makes me proactive. If it’s 5pm and I only have three moments, I go on offense—seeking out something inspiring that is sure to deliver an item or two for my list.

This practice also helps me get through the tough days. Last Saturday, I was really struggling. My feelings were hurt, and even though I knew it was irrational to feel the way I did, my logic brain wasn’t really fixing my heart. Maybe I did wallow for a couple of hours, and maybe I did drink one too many mimosas, but I was able to bring myself back.

I only had one top five entry, after all. I needed four more, and I was burning daylight.

What would Mary Poppins do? I can’t imagine her spending any time feeling sorry for herself. She would pick herself up, dust herself off, turn her toes out and fly off to a new adventure. So that’s exactly what I did.

I didn’t get to dance with Neleus, but there’s always tomorrow.

 

Stars Thrown In

Anything can happen if you let it.

Seriously.

I have directed a lot of shows and played quite a few roles, and each one has been a gift in its own way. But this summer, I had the opportunity to play—and I do mean play in every sense of the word—the magnum opus that is Mary Poppins at the historic Crighton Theatre in downtown Conroe, Texas. I’ll dig deeper into the show itself as time goes on, but for the moment can we just talk about what a force this character is?

First thing you need to know, if you’re familiar with the movie and not the musical, is that the stage production draws a great deal of detail from the PL Travers books that the Disney film simply didn’t have time to pack in. Please don’t misunderstand: Julie Andrews is an absolute dream, and she was utterly charming in the role. The musical, however, allows for Poppins to be a total smartass—but she’s adorable, so she pulls it off and everyone loves her anyway!

She tosses around lines like “I never explain anything” all matter-of-fact like. You can’t help but raise your eyebrows, and then shake your head at how the things flying out of her mouth are so incongruent with the buttoned-up way she carries herself… From my first read-through of the script, I was surprised—nay, shocked—at how much she gets away with and how she just owns her crazy.

The more I studied the role, the more I thought, “I want to BE Mary Poppins when I grow up.”

And every rehearsal and performance, I discovered another life lesson Poppins was teaching me. Just like she saved Mr. Banks, she brought me back to myself. I was inspired right out of the rut my life had fallen into, and the goal of this site is to share that ongoing ride with you.

Playing the quintessential English nanny gave me the poise to adopt a few of her better characteristics IRL. I’d gotten a little lost in recent years, allowing people to push me around and not fighting for myself. And more than anything, Mary taught me that you can care about other people without losing yourself.

It’s not all about you. But it’s not all about NOT you either.