In Praise Of Clutter

By Rita Erlich

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So what’s clutter, exactly, that we should be decluttering? As if it were stress, and we need to de-stress. There seems to be a theory that stress and clutter are somehow linked. Get rid of them both so you can start afresh, clean, pure, and untroubled.

It’s a dangerous path. I heard years ago that there was a de-clutter at the Royal Botanic Gardens in the early 20s. ‘All these papers!’ someone must have said, clucking a bit. Why, who needs all these old letters! And out went decades of great scientific correspondence, all the letters of Ferdinand von Mueller, the government botanist, who had corresponded with botanists all over the world.

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That wasn’t clutter, those were archives. I’ve always hung on to papers and documents. Just in case they come in handy. And they do: I have a copy of a book of recipes that was produced by (and for) the creches of Paris about thirty years ago. It’s a record of French nutrition for children and eating habits that I think has great value and potential application here.

And I had decades of menus from decades of reviewing restaurants before the internet meant all menus were on line. They were donated to the State Library of Victoria – and became the basis of a book, Melbourne by Menu. It made the 7.30 report on the ABC. That made me laugh: I tidy up my study and it becomes a television item.

But supposed clutter is about more than papers. The rule (so I’m told) is that if you haven’t used it or worn it (whatever it is), you should ditch it. But there’s that platter that sits on the dresser. I don’t use it, because there’s a hairline crack in it. I won’t throw it out. It’s the last piece of the dinner service my mother bought when she arrived in Melbourne in the 1920s. Every so many years I point it out to my adult sons, who look a bit misty-eyed at the tangible memory of the grandmother who loved them and whom they loved. We’re a family for whom food matters. When I look at the platter, when her grandchildren look at it, we’re thinking about all the meals that were served from it and all the people, now gone, who sat around the table.

platterThat’s not clutter. It’s the start of a story that begins when my mother arrived in Melbourne as a teenager. There are stories everywhere in my house. The little tapestry made by a cousin of my father’s, the drawings given to me by friends now gone, my late mother-in-law’s embroidered napkins. Who made these? Let me tell you her story.

Clutter is the stuff that has no use at all. I can recognise rubbish when I see it. I’ve just thrown out a dozen glass jars that have no lids. A jar without a lid is no use for those of us who re-use endlessly for home-made preserves. I’ve just ditched three little bottles of nail polish that I bought years ago, thinking that they were good colours and that one day I might apply them to my nails. No story there, they can go.


Rita ErlichRita Erlich is a passionate food writer and consultant, who pioneered many areas of food writing and criticism. She writes about food in its many forms and meanings – restaurants, recipes, nutrition, history, culture, agricluture, wine – in newspapers, magazines and websites. Her latest book will be co-written with chef Scott Pickett, of Estelle and Saint Crispin.

Photo Source: Herald Sun



What grandparents know that others do not see: all children are beautiful.

by Penny Cook

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All children are beautiful and in the words of developmental psychologist Urie Broffenbrenner ‘every child needs someone who is absolutely crazy about them’. Why would he say that? What does that actually mean in a child’s life?

Childhood is when children get a raw impression of who they are..based on how adults, the powerful, knowing ones respond to them. As an early childhood teacher for more years than I like to admit to, I have always believed that every child I am connected with needs to feel that I like them. It’s my first responsibility. I’m not talking about behaviour here. I’m talking about knowing the power I have and being responsible with it. As an adult (not necessarily a teacher), any interaction I have with a child has the potential to contribute to her/his internal construction of his/her worth as a human being and a member of society. And … I haven’t always done that exceptionally well.

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Adults, by definition rule the world. And children are wiser than we know. They are wise to the emotional script that we run with because essentially they are emotional beings. It has been said that children learn the teacher not the content. I’m guessing as you’re reading this you’re reflecting on your own childhoods and how you’ve grown up. Who did you respond to? Who were the adults who affirmed you and which adults did not? Children respond emotionally… that’s what attachment is about … emotional connection. As very young children ‘emotion’ is their first language, before a spoken language.

And that’s where grandparents are so important. We don’t have to make the decisions about the day-to-day routines. We don’t have to get children up in the morning and make sure they get to childcare, school or wherever. We don’t have to do the homework. We don’t have to provide the 5 food groups in the right amount.

 The research is in … We can play well beyond bedtime, read more stories than allocated, spend time listening and responding. We can stop and smell the roses with children.

We can be crazy about our grandchildren because they need us to be!!


Penny CookPenny Cook has been an early childhood educator for over 30 years. She loves to travel  – anywhere. Penny is a mother and ‘Nan Pen’, who is continuously fascinated and amazed by her two young grandchildren.  She has always wanted to live in  a tree house by the beach …’s never too late!! Other wonderfully insightful articles about young children by Penny include Call me on the Banana Phone, Grandma! and Hey Grandma, try this … build your grandchild’s imagination!

Photo source: Unknown.


The grief of an empty nest

by Kerry Cue

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Kate Legge Life Matters ABCIn her article, The bittersweet silence of an empty nest, The Australian (9 JUN 2014), Kate Legge openly and honestly describes the feeling of loss she experienced when her children finally left home.

‘The upheaval I felt at this shift in family rhythms surprised me’ wrote Kate. A working mother she just assumed that the stay-at-home mothers would feel the wrench of a childless-home more than a busy journalist, who loves her work. This was not the case.

Kate, who explained in the article that she had negotiated menopause without much ‘psychological disruption’, was surprised at the grief she felt when her children left. There is no one instance of sadness. ‘The pangs simply come upon me. I know I’m not alone.’

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So much quiet wisdom can be gleaned from Kate’s writing. Those of us who have been or still are working mothers, often assume that we can schedule our days, our emotions, our lives. This is not, of course, how emotions work. We want our children to grow up and become independent adults. Yet we feel the loss of the touch, the smell, the voice, the face, the laughter and the coat on the chair, the shoes in the hall and even the dirty plates in the sink belonging to an adult child. And we feel this loss at a deep mammalian level. We grieve. No amount of logic can counter this mammalian response. We grieve.

I think Kate puts this best:

‘The anguish that wraps its arms around me stems from accepting that a wonderful period of my life is over.’

We, THE SIBYLS, declare Kate Legge an Honorary Sibyl for her openness and willingness to share her inner feelings, thoughts and wisdom.


Kate Legge NovelThe Marriage ClubKate Legge is a Walkley award winning journalist who writes for The Austraian. She has published two novels. The Unexpected Elements Of Love and The Marriage Club.




Help! My Bubble Wrap Kid Just turned 40

by Kerry Cue

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‘My eldest daughter is 32 this year. So this is the one raised in the early 80s when Penelope Leach was the guru. Anyway, excuse me!

Bloody Penelope Leach where you had to be breast-feeding continually and everything was baby centered and child focused and you always had to stimulate the baby and raise their self-esteem.’

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     ………………………..Virginia, NSW, RN, Life Matters, ABC Talkback,28 MAR 2014

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Does Helicopter Parenting Harm Kids?

your-baby-and-child Penelope LeachOnce parents felt their role was to feed and clothe their children, and wash behind their ears (for some reason). In the 1970s, however, a Parenting Revolution emerged. Suddenly, every stage of a child’s development (when they goo, poo, smile, sit etc) demanded parental supervision and emotional support. The new era of Helicopter Parenting had begun. UK psychologist, Penelope Leach, was a flag bearer of this revolution.

Her book, Your Baby and Child: From Birth to Age Five (1977), became the child-rearing bible for many parents, myself included. She provided useful information about snivels and rashes, but constantly boosting a child’s self esteem demands extreme vigilance. Children will fall over. They will come second in a race. They will get B in a test. So a parent had to stay vigilant and always cheer their child’s efforts (even the most lame pasta art effort).

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Now it is time to ask: Does Helicopter Parenting Harm Kids? It can. In his book, How Not to Talk to Your Kids (2007), American journalist Po Bronson warned that constantly praising kids means ‘they never learn strategies to deal with failure’. Bubble Warp kids can become ‘risk adverse’ simply because they can’t deal with the emotional impact of failing.

We Sibyls were the first, if fairly moderate, Helicopter Parents. Our children are now adults so we can comment on some of the long-term outcomes as we observe the first ‘Bubble Wrap kids’ as they turn 40.

Bubble Wrap kids never have to share, never have to wait and never hear the word ‘No’. What would that look like when those kids are 40 years old. Ugly! Very ugly. Who would want to live with a Me-centric 40 year old who won’t share, wait, doesn’t take ‘No’ for an answer yet also needs constant emotional support? This isn’t just narcissism, it is needy, clingy narcissism. They will suck the emotional life out of any partner or mother (See Why are Feminist Daughters Angry with their Mothers.)

And one more thing. Will Bubble Wrap kids want to have children of their own? Maybe not. Firstly, children raised Helicopter-style have seen their parents hovering first hand. It looks like hard work.

And, secondly, having children involves risk. For ‘Bubble Wrap Kids’ the idea is terrifying. What if something goes wrong? What if the child is hideous? What if I can’t handle being a parent? Why do it? Having children is way, way too risky!


Photo Source: Klein Letter Archives



Why are feminist daughters angry with their mothers?

by Kerry Cue

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dark red quote 1We’ve given those girls everything.

We’ve raised them to be feminists.

And they turn around and they hate their mothers.
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     ……………………………………Virginia, NSW, RN, Life Matters, ABC Talkback,28 MAR 2014

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Is this a new syndrome?

When this talkback segment came on the radio I nearly ran the car off the road. This was brutally honest comment, talkback radio at its best. I had to stop the car and listen. Here is Virginia, NSW, again:

‘My daughter is 32 this year …. Anyway, that generation of girls … all highly educated, all got degrees, very career driven young women … but I’ve noticed there is a real syndrome among my friends … I’m now 60 …those girls … are very critical and, I would say in some cases, downright abusive of their mothers. … We talk about it among ourselves and it’s horrible. Virginia, NSW, RN, Life Matters, ABC Talkback,28 MAR 2014

Sibylesque Mummy said 3What’s going on? Surely feminist daughters are independent, self-determining young women, who do not depend on their mothers. Or, could it be that Helicopter Parents – across the parent spectrum from mild hoverer to tyrannical Tiger Mum – have created needy offspring? Helicopter parenting began in the 1970s when Penelope Leach and other child rearing gurus urged parents to build their children’s self-esteem. Parent’s had to be hyper-vigilant in case their child missed out on an A, or an invitation to a party, or being picked for a sports team to make sure their child’s self-esteem didn’t collapse like a house of cards.

Mea Culpa. Many parents from the 1970s on are guilty to some degree of fretting over their child’s self-esteem. But this brings about another problem: EMOTIONAL DEPENDENCE. In her article, The Ties that Unwind (The Weekend Australian Magazine, 1 Mar 2014),

babies-and-their-mothersKate Legge explored the different expectations children have of parents across the generations. There has been a generational shift. People aged 60+, says Kate, grew up believing that children should be fed, clothed and schooled (and, therefore, loyal to the family.) Whereas younger adults between 30 and 50 want and often demand EMOTIONAL SUPPORT and if the parents are not forthcoming they will go elsewhere – to friends or therapists – to get it.

This is the Catch 22 of modern parenting. Children, obviously, need emotional support. (There. There. Did the big, bad thunder frighten you?) But children also have to mature into independent young adults. (Yeah! Life’s a bitch. Suck it up Princess.) In his article on, Teen Spirit: Helicopter parenting has crippled American teenagers: Here’s how to fix it, American psychologist, Dan Griffin, calls this parental role change as moving from the more cheerful, obviously, Cheerleader to tougher Coach. But how do parents get this move right?

Could the angry daughter syndrome be related to the feminist mantra: You can be anything you want to be. You can have it all? Mothers, teachers and career advisers wanted each girl to realise her full potential. This mantra was delivered with enthusiasm and the best intentions in the early days of feminism. (Have a look at Australian Content Magazine For Women Who Want It All)

the-tibertine-sibylThis is fine talk for a cheerleader, but as a tough coach the possibilities are unintentionally overstated. A girl cannot be anything or everything she wants to be. She cannot become an A-grade tennis playing, ballerina, plumber, film-star-lawyer princess-bride, for instance. Maybe, just maybe, these daughters are angry with their mothers because ‘mum’ promised them the world and the world hasn’t delivered. Besides, mum is meant to fix everything, isn’t she? As paediatrician Donald Winnicott wrote in 1953, the Good Enough Mother must fail, eventually, to fulfil her child’s every need. Yep! That sounds about right. Suck it up princess.

Then again, as the first batch of feminist daughters of stay-at-home mothers, we were often outlandishly critical of them too. And so the wheel turns.

Dance photo:Alice Murdoch Adams dance school in Calgary  from the chronicallyvintage blog




Don’t call me ‘Grandma’

by Kerry Cue

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 purple quote 1   “The reason grandparents and grandchildren get along so well is that they have a common enemy.”purple quote 2

……………………… Sam Levenson, American Humourist, 1911-1980

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Baby Boomers Find the ‘Grandma’ Tag Doesn’t Fit

Baby Boomers, apparently, are terrified of being labelled ‘old’. We’re in denial and we refuse to be called grandma. Susan Sarandon (b. 1946), for instance, wants to be called ‘Honey’.

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This is not a straightforward issue. Firstly, today a kid can have 4 grandmas, 2 biological grannies and 2 step-grandmamas. Who gets the naming rights? Often, it is first in, first served. So the first-time-grandma may be  competing with an established  grandma-of-3. To avoid the granny wars, she has to find another name.

If both grandmothers opt for the same ‘nanna’ tag, the kid will soon sort you out. I know a little tyke who called his nannas ‘Chippie Nanna’ and ‘Chocie Nanna’. Obviously, they specialised in crisps and chocolate.

May Procession c 1950s Communigate UK

May Procession c 1950s  UK

Secondly, women of my generation have fought to be recognised as individuals. Otherwise, our entire identity is dished out as  stereotypes: girlfriend, fiancee, wife, mother, grandmother…. Are we expected to revert to a generic brand name in our senior years?

Some will be happy with this option but some won’t. I’m one and I’m not even a grandmother. Our grandmothers, much like my grandma and nanna, were stern, hat-wearing, church-going matrons (see left), who often tut-tutted at, well, every fun thing that happened at family gatherings. I don’t care about being a grandmother, but the name would feel like a millstone around my aging-neck.

What are the options?

Nan: My friend Nan says she’s just growing into her own name!!

Mimi: Kim, called Kimmie by the family, said ‘Let the child decide’. He started calling  her ‘Mimi’. She loves it.

Lola: Surprisingly, ‘lola’ is grandma in Filipino (Tagalog). ‘Lolo’ is grandpa. My nephew married the gorgeous, Regina, who is Filipino. His mum gets called ‘Lola Liz’. Now that sounds like a grandma, who is having a damn good time!

Any other suggestions?

The 1950’s photograph came from an unattributed source. More information is welcome.