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That Time You Needed Mary Poppins to Fix Your Life--When tough love is the only option

Updated: Nov 19, 2019


I’ve recently rung for nanny to handle a situation.

As I pored over the observations in my son’s school progress report, I beamed with pride over the collective opinion that my sweet boy was kind, generous, and empathetic. That’s my Golden Boy! And then I moved to the next section, the one that covers those two blood draining words: “life skills.”

Turns out, it was also the overwhelming opinion of five teachers that he is disorganized, easily distracted, and what basically added up to a hot mess. The Golden Boy was an absent-minded professor, and I knew precisely where to look for blame.

I can scrutinize my wardrobe, skin, and diet and organize a completely new look and regimen with the dedication of a sergeant on the field. I can plan a vacation like it’s my job. I can dedicate to lots of things: writing, decorating, cooking, and socializing. But when it comes to the personal life skills that get me from A to Z, I’m a walking shit show. And it seemed that the boy got my genes.

“Well begun is half done,” I muttered as I checked his assessment.

It’s what Mary Poppins says when she eyes the messy nursery. Our life skills paralleled the misdirected Banks house. Time to ring for nanny! Only I don’t have a nanny. I have a me.

There comes a time when we must admit that we aren’t doing well enough, when all the inspirational memes and pats on the back can’t save us from legitimate failures. It’s when we need to suit up and recognize the difference between perfection seeking and underperforming. We might look like a million bucks, but our life skills are basically living out of a cardboard box. It’s time for tough love.

With each section on my son’s skill sheet, I thought of how I would score myself. Time management – I’m always late – unsatisfactory. Organization – I have four junk drawers – unsatisfactory. Focus – oh is that a "Real Housewives" marathon? – failing. Add to that my relationship with the snooze button, that junk room upstairs that’s supposed to be a guest room, and piles of papers – I was nearing probation.

While winning the game at everything enjoyable, I’m instantly tired when I focus on the boring things. And although there is nothing groundbreaking about that statement, my example was affecting others. If I was brutally honest, it was affecting me as well because when I looked at the paper piles, procrastinated tasks, and repeated apologies for lateness, I knew I could do better and I’d be happier if I did.

Enter Poppins. My boy and I needed to “find the element of fun” to make “the job a game.”

It helps that we are both wildly competitive by nature. So challenging ourselves is half of the fun in our recent efforts, like beat the timer. This is how we eat the elephants in our lives—for him, homework. For me, that junk room. We’ve also discovered that when we put at the top of a to do list items we didn’t complete the day before, everything does eventually get done. Bonus points for being the winner with nothing left over! As for the snooze button, I admit that is a relationship harder to part with than any romance before. But just as a “spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” so too does coffee wafting upstairs that I took two minutes to set before bed. Well, most mornings. I’m not “practically perfect.”

Mostly in this alarm for shrinking “pie crust promises,” I’ve learned that a little bit of egotism makes for great productivity. As Poppins says, “anything can happen if you let it,” including the distractions of texts, calls, email, news, and gossip. When we shut down the noise, real work gets done. It’s quite a simple thing of enormous importance. The world will still be there when the work is done.

I know enough to know that I am my most challenging responsibility and the one whom I must also challenge the most. If I continually give myself a pass because I “do so much already” or I play the “perfection” card when I’m really just unmotivated, I’ll never be more than satisfactory to myself nor a guide to those who follow my example. Am I mounting more pressure on myself? Yes, but is my peace worth the weight? 100 percent. Therein lies the difference between perfection obsession and underperformance.

Mary Poppins was demanding, proud, and firm—qualities that are rather taboo in a sensitive world. But without her insistence to not smudge the drawing of the possibilities she saw, the epiphanies that saved a family might never have been realized.

“Open different doors. You may find a you there that you never knew was yours.”

I think she was “spit-spot” on.

Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.

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