There's an article in yesterday's WSJ about a new TV reality show called "Supernanny" in which a strict British nanny tells parents how to make their kids behave. (I don't know yet if they have a call-in number where you can nominate other families--you know the ones--to appear on the show.) A line from the article:
"Many Americans, for whom the words 'British nanny' tend to conjure up Mary Poppins, may find some of Ms. Frost's take-no-prisoners methods surprising."
Now anyone who thinks of Mary Poppins as opposed to strictness clearly knows nothing about Mary Poppins. Even the movie didn't soften her up much, and in the books she is a Terror. She hears no nonsense, brooks no opposition, and when it is Time To Go Home you go home, even if you were bobbing up and down on the ceiling a moment before.
Jane and Michael do love Mary Poppins, of course, in part because she is so strict (though fair)--knowing what the rules are is much more comforting than the typical modern parenting style of "do what you want until I blow a fuse." But in that time and place they would have had that (though perhaps not the fairness) from any nanny. The primary thing is the utterly unpredictable and delightful things that happen around her, which she offers no explanation for and often does not even seem to remember.
Predictable rules and unpredictable fun. Not a bad goal to shoot for.