Forget the boss girls, I’m just here for the crazy nanny

Have you ever rewatched one of your favorite childhood movies as an adult, hesitating slightly because it could have aged terribly and What if this viewing destroys all happy memories? Not me, I will watch anything over and over again to avoid being alone with my own thoughts. Anyway, I recently hopped on the 1964 classic Mary Poppins and I was struck by how much I still love everything about it. In particular: Mary herself.

With a no-frills haircut, a love of tidying up and a self-proclaimed “very firm” attitude towards childcare, Mary lands the job of nanny to help the upper-class Banks family struggling with an irritable and overworked father, a budding feminist mother, and two well-spoken but naughty children.

Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins with her umbrella.

It might be tempting to see Mary Poppins through a modern corporate boss lens, a “don’t take shit” vibe, but aside from being inaccurate and depressing, that would overlook her most defining characteristic: she’s a mad.

I use that word with love and, as a mad companion, find its joyful and inspiring unpredictability. This woman parachutes into town on a talking umbrella, takes the kids to horse races, drinks “medicinal” rum punch, and invents gibberish words. And she does NOT. STOP. SINGING. Mary gets away with being completely crazy because she talks like a royal, dresses modestly and, of course, is a bit Magic.

Here’s the thing: magic or not, she always drags huge lamps in her purse and pretends she can talk to dogs. MAD. In the absolute best sense. A key example of this: if you don’t recall, Mary gets the job as the family’s nanny by arriving at their home and meeting the list of prerequisites the Banks kids wrote (and sang), describing their ideal au pair.

But that letter had been torn up and thrown away by their father. “However, has she found it?” Truly magical!” some viewers might think. Not me. I think Mary went digging through their trash cans and that’s how she found the bits of paper, sticking them together with some sap she sucked up from a tree in the park, maybe. She’s a little crazy and I love her for it.

As the film progresses, we learn that she is everyone’s friend: chimney sweeps, cartoon foxes, an older gentleman who can’t help but float through the air laughing hysterically. We never learn how she’s friends with Bert, the lovable street performer/chimney sweep/band of men who, at first glance, seems so different from that lady in the pink shoes. But you see, he’s also a lunatic (did you hear his “Cockney” accent?) and they’re not that different after all. I suspect they have a recurring romance, but that’s up to me and the fan forums to discuss.

Mary is an inspiration to grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends of friends with children everywhere. We can only dream of being a helping hand for a disconnected family, providing care, having fun and helping them mend their differences to live-laugh-love again. After that, we can just fly away, without commitment or liability. The dream.

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