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.