3 Formidable Fairytale Heroes for the Child-Free: Mary Poppins — Fairy Godmother — & Peter Pan’s Wendy
How Charles Perrault, J.M. Barrie, & P.L. Travers’ iconic women inspire a new generation of people without children, beyond the page
“Mary Poppins,” he cried, “you’ll never leave us, will you?”
― P.L. Travers, Mary Poppins
I sipped half a glass of red wine at one o’clock today. Then, I started vacuuming the fabulous apartment where I live alone. A tune popped into my head; the singing began.
“A spooooooonful of sug-ahh…!”
My solo rolled into an enthusiastic rendition of all the words I remember to “Supercalifragilisticexpialadocious.” I even jumped onto the wooden landing dock past the carpet at my door on the right “docious,” too.
Mary Poppins’ iconic outfits flashed before my eyes. It got me thinking about the value of being fabulous in the eyes of children.
I am a single woman with no children, living alone, focused on her career.
“I hate being good.” — Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers, Mary Poppins
Making Adulthood Exciting
Well-dressed adults make growing up more exciting. That’s how I internalized stylish grown-ups when I was a child, at least. One time, at age seven in a dentist’s office, a svelte woman in tailored clothes and perfect lipstick smiled at me. I was stunned. She looked so amazing. Why would she wave at me? Was she me, from the future? I began to look forward to growing up and finding out.
Sometimes, as a child, I felt so bored and trapped. I am grateful for that woman’s smile and wave. Part of why it meant so much was that she looked like someone I would want to grow up to be. I believe Mary Poppins does that for children still. I believe anyone who puts on a great outfit and goes out does, too. When we dress up, we lift people up.
Well-dressed adults make growing up more exciting. Despite how the narrator describes this trait, aren’t her style and self-care core reasons we love Mary Poppins?
“Mary Poppins was very vain and liked to look her best. Indeed, she was quite sure that she never looked anything else.”
― P.L. Travers, Mary Poppins
As my vacuuming continued, the final “-expialadocious” faded from the air. I started to remember another character: the fairy godmother from Cinderella.
The Fairy Godmother in You
“Her godmother, who was a fairy, said, ‘You would like to go to the ball, is that not so?’”
— Charles Perrault, Cinderella
While the Fairy Godmother’s personal life is unknown, she steps in powerfully for a young woman. She has an iconic outfit of her own — blue gown, sparkling wand, gray bob, etc.— but I take something deeper from her role in the plot.
Without the Fairy Godmother, Cinderella would not have gotten the opportunity she needed in life. Only a fairy godmother could have helped her at the moment she showed up.
Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about this phenomenon in her nonfiction book, Committed. You may know Gilbert better for her work, Eat Pray Love.
Committed holds research on marriage through history around the world. It is also a log of the author’s attempt to get over it. (American politics forced her to marry the love of her life. Dreadful!).
Years back, the chip on my own shoulder about marriage had also grown too big. I didn’t want to be bitter anymore. When a great friend recommended this book to me, it worked.
Now, years later again, vacuuming, sipping wine, a single, childless, female world traveler… I draw from the book in even more ways.
Gilbert states something like 10% of women have been childless and/or unwed through most civilizations. She nicknames them “The Auntie Brigade.” In all societies and times, they are irreplaceable.
They can step in when parents pass away or fall ill.
They can care for the elderly when parents must care for the young.
They provide resources, like money and free labor.
Childless singles are the family structure’s white blood cells. No… A member of The Auntie Brigade is like a real-life fairy godmother.
Those are some big shoes to fill. Yes, it is a worthy goal to make adulthood look great (tip of the hat to you, Mary Poppins). But even more: can I become someone who steps in and gives a child the opportunities they need? When you are a childless adult, you have the chance to be a Fairy Godmother.
Fiction and Reality
Wendy Moira Angela Darling & my real-life role model
A very close friend of mine has not adopted or fostered… yet. She loves children and works in a shelter. For medical reasons, she cannot have biological children.
As I wound up the cord on my vacuum and thought of her, one last fictional character came into my mind: Wendy from Peter Pan.
“Will you be our mother?”
— the Lost Boys (and later, the pirates), J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
*(Did you know J.M. Barry invented the name Wendy? It did not exist for girls before him).
When catastrophe strikes and a shelter hotline is the only place left to turn to, my real-life friend is the one who picks up the phone. Among her other duties there, she also cleans up rooms when their youthful tenants change. No matter how many booger-walls she wipes, she just feels laughter and love. Through crisis and grime, she is ever-kind. She even makes custom fairy wings! (Wendy, too, experiences flying quite a bit).
It’s all part of why my great friend reminds me of Wendy Moira Angela Darling. They are both such amazing examples of the kind of human to be.
I know my friend. She is warmth and magic at the front desk for people during some of their lives’ darkest days.
She is not a biological aunt, but I think she lives up to Elizabeth’s Gilbert’s thoughts.
“I would tell aunties, look for an expanded role. Don’t merely be a wonderful auntie within the family but an auntie to the world. There is no shortage of children who need love. And there are no shortage of families out there who need an extra hand and an extra heart. And that’s your job. And there’s plenty to be done. And that’s where we step in as ‘sparents’ (spare parents); the roving, temporary loving adult.”
— Elizabeth Gilbert
My Spoonful of Sugar for You
My 28th birthday passed this spring. Though I have not unlocked the secret of time traveling back to meet seven-year-old me in a dentist office yet, adulthood has been exciting. I appreciate that woman for the help she gave me in getting here.
Mary Poppins, Wendy, Fairy Godmother — these are fantastic role models from fairy tales for us maiden-aunt types. You know… us *wealthy* (cough) world-traveling childless-woman sorts.
You don’t have to be wealthy or world traveling. The friend I mentioned is neither (yet), but she is a hero. She is a real-life Wendy for lost boys, and girls, and non-binary folks. I think it’s just the way she is. In many ways, she is my real-life role model.
When you are single or childless, it doesn’t matter if you’re wealthy, well-traveled, or otherwise. It all comes down to the same thing: We serve a purpose. We are still part of something bigger.
Be fabulous. Step in when no one else can. And show up for the lost ones.
Professional pilot. Fantasy author. Traveler (18 countries+).
"The Monster in her Garden"--a dystopian fantasy you can read in one sitting--available on Amazon. Fully illustrated.
"Mr. S's House Guest" coming soon.