Fields of Gold – The Secret Business of Childcare Waitlists

Fields of Gold – The Secret Business of Childcare Waitlists

There is a battle going on in the Inner West, and it has nothing to do with the housing market. It is all about securing a revered and much demanded childcare spot. As chocolate is an antidote to a breakup, so is childcare an antidote to a mother’s sanity.

Childcare is an opportunity for both us and our children to make friendships, improve our social connections and learn new skills. Unfortunately, securing our darlings a day in these havens, (that come with organic cooked food and yoga classes) is complicated battle. A battle that is fought on a field covered in gold.

My first encounter with the childcare process came under a cloud of intense stress and worry, and made me want to instantly give up. When our first little darling was born, we were living in Balmain, heartland of no chance places. I got scared hearing the stories from all the lovely, organised women in my mother’s group who had already put their names down at half a dozen centres before their child was born. When I heard these stories, mine was already six months old, so, obviously,  my next step was…to do nothing. I could see I didn’t have a shot, and was concerned about the financial sense of committing our names to centres we may not be living near, or need, when we were offered a spot.

To secure a venerated place, there are two types of mothers. Firstly, those Kikki K VIP members that are organised enough to put their child’s name down when they are in utero. I admire them, really I do, and I even tried to be like them. I am like them, a little. I love Kikki K, and I love even more spending money there. I somehow, disappointingly, never manage to actually find time to use the stuff….the beautiful organisational folders sit emptily by my pile of papers in my inbox. It’s one of my many skills my husband marvels at.

Then, there are those mothers like me, who always mean to…..really really plan to. But……don’t quite get the forms finished. Or sent in……another skill I possess.

By baby number 3, I had learnt a bit more about the competitive nature of childcare spots, and had put down my unborn baby’s details down three months before he was born, in 2015. Smugly I sent off the email, only to get a prompt reply that there was not a spot available until at least 2017, two years away. This was a centre that wasn’t even open yet!

Through many boring hours reading the wonders spouted by flashy childcare centre websites, I developed a simple and transparent system of only choosing centres that didn’t charge a fee. This filter narrows your selection to about twenty five percent of centres. If I see a centre that is prepared to not push you for an administration fee, then I am going to instantly feel more love for you than the others. I saw the policy as a symbol of their openness and generosity, not as a tactic of devouring money from desperate parents who probably will never be given the chance to step foot in the centre.

For those of us who are committed to an area – we have a mortgage, we have connections in the community (through a primary school), then all we can do is wait. And hope. How ethical is it for places to charge fees, knowing that their lists are overflowing with children?Is there any possibility of returning the money to parents once their child doesn’t get a spot. The combination of limited places of preschools in my local area (and I’m sure many others) and the documented evidence that pre-schooling is essential for child’s development adds to this issue. It is scary how slim our chances are of gaining a spot and how desperate we all are to get one.

The problem with this, the issue that underpins our desperate hope, is that childcare centres charge a waitlist fee, some charge a large one. I’ve heard of anything between $20 (average) to $200 on non refundable wait list fees to put your name at the end of a very long list. Some need to pay a deposit, plus the bond, which for one mother was non refundable once they decided they no longer wanted to place. That leaves lots of money sitting around, for the Queen (or King) to be counting in her counting room.

What is this administration fee really for? How much time and effort does it really take to enter the details onto a computer? I know it takes me an incredibly painfully long time to fill in an enrolment form, but do they need to re-enter it, or can’t they merely scan it or file it? I have read that some councils use this for future budgeting and staffing requirements.

In my research, I have come to understand that the situation as it stands is perfectly legal. It continues to be so as the fee is only the promise of a possibility of a place, not a guarantee. I have issues with those high demand centres accepting money from everyone. It seems unethical that those centres know most of the parents applying don’t have any chance as their lists are overflowing like a chocolate fountain at every happening kid’s party. This leads me to me asking ‘show me the money’! How much unjustified administrative fees sit in coffers throughout the inner west, from parents who never even had a chance of a place.

I’ve learnt that there are incredibly organised mothers who are right on top of this issue. They use a tried and tested email of regularly calling the centres and sending off emails checking their child’s wait list status. One Mum, used a copy and paste job – a gentle probe disguised as ‘checking if any more information was required for their child’s enrolment’. Any form of regular contact is apparently an opportunity that could potentially bring us closer to a spot.

Yet, this presents me with further questions – what components underpin the decisions regarding the places that are given? I am too polite to regularly check in for an update on a place, not wanted to disturb people who are busy looking after children. Rather, naively perhaps, I see it as my job to wait for a spot to become available, and to trust in the system. But I wonder, does my meekness imply that I don’t deserve a spot, and furthermore, how do they decide which child is given a spot? Is it order of the child waitlisted, or is it order of priority (parent working, disabled, etc), or is it to appease those desperate parents that continually call the centres? Finally, is there any independent auditor who is monitoring this selection process?

In my research I was told of instances where centres can’t give the place away. They try to contact parents who have changed location or don’t return the centre’s phone calls, so apparently, by not keeping our details current, we are somehow missing out on places. Personally, I think this situation might occur as often as Nessie appears in the Loch. It certainly hasn’t been my experience, I apparently still don’t have a place at any of the centres I put my now four year old daughter’s name down at three years ago.

Is it really ethically acceptable for centres to take money off parents of two or three year old children, knowing that they have children who have been on the list for three or more years before them? The Inner West is a place to raise children, to make money, to spend money – in houses, in the great shops and cafes, and on endless waitlist fees that, similarly to your late night partying Saturday nights, you are never going to get back.

 

 

 

 

 

Final note – dedicated to my Mother’s Group in Balmain, 2010, who gave me many invaluable pieces of advice, including childcare (which although I didn’t follow, was still brilliant and demonstrated to me how much you all knew what they were doing), and who got me through many insane moments with my first darling – a little runner (who you all kindly took turns in running after, thus giving me a break). Thanks ladies!

Lesson Nine- Oh, the places you’ll go……

Lesson Nine- Oh, the places you’ll go……

Lesson Nine

Once your formative school years are behind you, the world is waiting for you to dance upon.

My next lesson is about dreaming, and in the understanding that once you start to unravel the true tenor of one dream you may find yourself starting all over again, or outside your self-designed dreamscape.

I had very clear goals for when I left school. I had saved and booked into an exclusive private college where I was going to study Journalism. A few weeks into my course I found that the structure was very restricted and the timetable and homework were reflective of school practice, and I wanted out.

In danger of losing a lot of money, a second option was presented by the college which was to study their Book Editing and Publishing Course. Although the course was fairly mundane and I made no friends (and had to sit there each week quietly alone at a desk by myself feeling forlorn), I did make some use of my time there. I had finally started to immerse myself in the world of my true passion – Literature.

Curiously, it was the part time job that I got at a local bookshop – solely because of my recent Diploma course, that led me to study English Literature at University. I worked alongside a hip young group of undergraduates from the local university who were all passionately engaged in University life.

I quickly learnt that my unexpected withdrawal from college had drifted me towards my true dream thanks to the people I encountered (the experience of working with great people was tempered by being managed by a cantankerous boss, but that was all a part of that time). I had been too scared and too limited in my ambitions as I had thought Literary study too indulgent and not serious enough. I hadn’t realised that you could go to University to study areas that interested you, and to worry about connecting them to career pathways later. I had always been a worrier, and I finally started to conceive of the big dream as I went along.

When I was at Auckland University, my two close friends were a 30 something single mother who partnered cynicism with very dry humour in a Julia Morris sort of way, and a cyclopean Samoan ex-bouncer who loved playing ‘War of Warcraft’. I was drawn to them by their passion and enthusiasm for History and their ability to converse and fervently debate historical issues without self doubt or fear of being in the wrong. I would watch incredulously (because I was still a shy 20 year old) and think – but shouldn’t we be doing something else useful today…other then sit here all day discussing the true beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement..or who the greatest thinkers were in History? For the first time in my life I encountered passionate people pursuing their interests in a professional way. I was inspired to further my love of English Literature and no longer saw it as something frivolous or indulgent.

I changed universities three times over my three degrees and each time I met people who challenged my thinking and my understanding of the world and pushed me closer to dreams I wasn’t aware I was chasing. I am forever grateful to those friendships as they left indelible impressions upon me. Every experience changes you and contributes to the way you build your life and dreams.

My discussion on some of my own experiences towards my current state of happiness ends here for now, with a reminder to my girls, and other readers to see the world with shiny eyes and when ‘things start to happen, don’t worry. Don’t stew. Just go right along. You’ll start happening too.’

– from Dr Seuss ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’

 

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by Elissa in Lessons Tags: ambitions, career, debate, dr seuss quote, dream, dreaming, friendship, goals, happiness, i worry, passion, school, study, thinking, University, worry

Lesson Five – Find a Friend to Lean on

Lesson Five – Find a Friend to Lean on

Lesson Seven

Friendships have been written about using all kinds of cliches and cheesy phrases.

Love has been ravaged and anointed in the same way.

I’m going to make this lesson simple. Work hard on being honest and opening up to the people around you – family, school mates, uni friends and colleagues. These people will all come in and out of your life depending on where you are living, travelling, or how intrusive work life is for them or you.

When you can, spend long insouciant hours in the playground, coffee shops or pubs opening up about your life story and who you really are. Open up your heart by listing your worries and fears, and listen to theirs.

Work hard on this. Your work or study or boyfriend will always (hopefully) be around. It is not a waste of your time to be having girly girl chats.

I say girly girl chats, because in my experience girls have always beautifully featured in my life in this way. I’ve never had a close male friend, except for my husband. But this will always be a different relationship to the one you have with your girlfriends.

BECAUSE when you are having a burdensome run of events, you will need someone who you can just call on and unload to and not be judged or lectured to or misunderstood.

Find that friend and treat them well.

And finally, from another literary great who can astutely embody my lesson with a few words:

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” – C.S. Lewis

Dedication: to all those women out there who I have called on in tears. I heartfully thank you for being in my life.

Follow up: Since I wrote this post, my darling first born has started school. I thought I had seen the best of female friendships, but nothing had prepared me for the ways women go completely above and beyond once you are part of a school community. Having my third baby, suffering surgeries….pain, and other issues made getting Mj to and from school very hard. Having women drop off dinners, some of whom I barely knew, was life saving. Some picked up and dropped off my daughter many days in a row….their kindness suprising me in ways that made me want to almost cry. I thank you ladies, I could not have survived kindergarten and a newborn without you. You women were truly generous, and I am still so grateful.

Lesson Four – Let it Go

Lesson Four – Let it Go

Lesson Four

This is one of my husband’s favourite phrases and I really am trying…but maybe if I wrote about the ways in which I am doing this, it might help others to implement this valuable (although often annoying) advice faster, and be a helpful lesson for my daughters about living in the present.

There have been two recent incidents that have made me laugh about how much I tend to hold on to things, and how much easier it would be just to let it go.

The first incident involved an old classmate. Having left school over ten years ago, I was finding it ridiculous that I was still distressed over the antics of a few ‘mean girls’ during my schooling days. I managed to reconnect through the omniscient powers of facebook with a girl who often said horrible things about me, and seeing as we both had young babies we thought we’d have a play date and catch up.

I was so nervous about it, both in accepting the invite and during the drive over, but she was lovely and has morphed in to an all embracing Earth Mother type after some hard times and the birth of her beautiful baby.

We both laughed about those days, and as she went on to talk about how bitchy she was at school, I was both relieved and surprised.  This self-awareness made it much easier for me to let it go. And to laugh at how silly I had been.

The second let it go incident was with HP  after we had just had a family picnic end in tears. Our two year old daughter Matilda Jayne (MJ) fell off the picnic table in a sickening two stage collapse. I could only watch hopelessly  as my legs failed to get me there in super(wo)man speed.

HP was the first on the scene and as he was picking MJ up, her eyes locked onto mine with the pain like a forgotten labrador puppy and I rushed to unload AM so that I could hold her.

The only sound I remember before the wailing from MJ burst forth was the sharp intake of shocked sighs emerging from a wedding party who were in the process of being video-graphed and photographed in the park.

I carried MJ away from the trauma scene so that she could be distracted by the boats on the water, but as the volcanic swelling slowly erupted from her forehead, I saw it as our cue to fast track it home to ice pack and rest.

We endeavoured to pack up the picnic food, a rug, a ball that was being blown towards the water, as well as trying to keep all our rubbish from flying away while carrying screaming girls.

What bothered me most as we drove away from the accident site? That nobody in the wedding party had offered to help, or offered any kind words or even sympathetic looks as we struggled in between them all out to our car. The only look I did register was the frustrated look of their videographer as he was obviously foreseeing the audio dramas MJ’s wailing was going to play havoc with.

‘Just let it go sweetie…just let it go’, said HP as I fumed away in the car.

I went on and on about the ignorance and rudeness of people. There were no interruptions to my tirade as MJ, traumatised, had immediately fallen asleep in her car seat.

We had been in a park only ten minutes away from home, and as I got out to carry her inside, I suddenly saw her bruised forehead, grazed arms, and the clean streaks that the tears had made through dirty face, and I felt nauseaus.

I didn’t have time to think about those people again until today, three days later, now that the drama and fear over MJ’s potential head injury has passed.

Worrying about the past, or other people’s reactions to events, or worrying about anything outside my little family has no place in my life today.

Sometimes our girls take up so much of our time that I really don’t have the time to even remember how to let it go. It just happens. So being a Mum is healthy for my worries and healthy for my girls who benefit from my constant focus and thoughts…if they aren’t with me then I am thinking about them.

I only hope that my daughters don’t have to wait until they are my age to retain focus on their own life. The phrase, Let it Go should be the soundtrack to your teen years when people around you wrong you, which they will..and disappoint you, which they will..and anger you, which they will.

Don’t wait until being a Mum to start learning how to let it go – practise it as early as you can!

And in honour of my husband who has been doing his best to get me to practise living his favourite phrases, here is a quote from an author he introduced me to when we first started dating (and is the reason I discovered the brilliant ‘fahrenheit 451′)

“Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it. It’s like boats. You keep your motor on so you can steer with the current. And when you hear the sound of the waterfall coming nearer and nearer, tidy up the boat, put on your best tie and hat, and smoke a cigar right up till the moment you go over. That’s a triumph.”
― Ray BradburyFarewell Summer

 

Final note: I wrote this before ‘Frozen’ came out obviously, so I find it quite funny looking back that adults could get away with saying ‘let it go’ to each other without instantly conjuring up images of an Ice Queen. Bloody Disney! Nah, I still love it, even though Miss 6 has moved on.

 

Lesson Three – Know your Limits

Lesson Three – Know your Limits

Lesson Three

This is something that I continue to struggle with, and I must admit, I do admire the way my sister, RG, has always managed to clearly articulate her limits.

The problem with pushing yourself beyond your limits, is that you can become frustrated and agitated towards the very people you were trying to please by extending yourself.

Having my girls has meant that I can take breaks for myself in a much more authentic and reasonable manner.

Instead of forcing myself to go out, and then needing to sit for a rest break quite frequently, I can turn these rest breaks into ways of connecting with my girls. Sometimes MJ and I go through the alphabet, other times we go through all the colours of the dresses in the shops nearby. Or we notice the colours of cars, people’s tops, or the type of pets.

Having daughters means that my failings never have to be explained. MJ doesn’t notice that I’m siting again, or that we are spending a lot of time laying on the bed reading this morning – because anytime spent together is valued.

So, I will try and translate that in to my adult life, and instead of forcing myself to go out and do something I’m not up to doing, I will have a long phone chat instead, or invite those friends over and sit and chat to them on the couch, without worrying about the state of my house. I’m sure that my friends, like my daughters, only notice my conversation and the time we are spending together.

That is something that I am learning….and, as a literary heroine of mine has put it:

“I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited.”
― Sylvia Plath

from Sylvia Plath’s The Unabridged Journals (2000)

Lesson Two – Be True

Lesson Two – Be True

Lesson Two

My second lesson for my daughters is about trying to accept who you are and to honour your self above the needs of others.

As with all of the lessons that I am considering and reflecting upon, I probably should preface them with the confession that they are all works in progress. By creating the lesson, it is not a completed understanding, but a point to make about something I’ve encountered or considered in my day, in the hope that my girls can learn from my reflections and make changes to their own life faster than I’ve been able to do in mine.

Over the fifteen years or so that I was dating before I got married, I came up against many fights and arguments within my relationships, where I had to sacrifice and compromise my own needs.

In my first relationship, I exhausted myself over four years (when I should have cut it off at 4 weeks), by taking on the emotional issues and worrying about the anger of the boy I was with, instead of looking after me. I hadn’t worked out the importance of my self and spent hours and nights trying to keep him happy, and then later, trying to keep him away from me.

In a later relationship, I even considered giving up my life in Sydney with all my friends and dear family, to move to the Czech Republic where I was attempting to master the language and cultural quirks. That man struggled in saying ‘I love you’….a simple ask really, and something myself, who really wears her heart on her sleeve, needs.

Of course, it is okay to give up things that are important to you if it is for the greater good of your relationship, and will lead to a happy ever after….but if it will lead to the sickening niggling feeling that you are giving up too much – please be true to yourself!

Now, to end this lesson on a lighter note, a little story for you.

One day, when I had given up on relationships and was experiencing a tumultuous time in my family life, I met a man who took me as I was. I told him my whole story in one night – about my health issues, all my surgeries, my struggle with chronic pain, and the chaos that was occurring at home.

And, well, apparently, there is such thing as love at first sight.

We have our one year wedding anniversary coming up next month – and we have two beautiful girls!

 

Be true to yourself! Or, as one of my heroines more eloquently put it:

“The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It’s the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows & the beauty of a woman only grows with passing years.”
― Audrey Hepburn

Lesson One – What are little girls made of?

Lesson One – What are little girls made of?

Lesson One 

I have tried really hard not to inflict gender stereotypes on to my daughter, MJ (two years old), allowing her to become the type of girl that she was born to be, not what I want her to be.

We send her to play soccer, she doesn’t have Barbies, she sees Daddy do the washing and cooking too, she often wears boys t-shirts and pjs (the best style for fulfilling the dinosaur need) and I try to create gender neutral play.

I have to admit that I’m pretty surprised at how quickly she has gravitated towards ‘girly’ things -such as handbags, jewellery, shopping and, more recently nail polish!

I have never given her any of these things, but she has sourced them out for herself. She found an old bag of mine that had make up in and started walking around the house telling me that she was ‘going shopping’!

She started noticing my necklace or earrings I put on each day, and asking where hers is, and her awareness of make up must have stemmed from her waiting and watching me getting ready so that we can finally get out of the house!

On a recent shopping trip where she delighted at walking past all the colourful new spring dresses released, and proudly pointed out each bright colour she recognised, her sharp eyes spotted the nail polish! Exciting, vibrant colours had been released and were on special at her eye level so that she could marvel at them herself.

I decided to indulge her and allowed her to choose two colours for us to paint our nails with. Her favourite colour is orange and she also chose blue (which happens to be mine, so that was nice of her).

I felt guilty putting off our doing our nails as I looked for free time, and the last few days I kept seeming to be running out of time!

After asking me for what unfortunately was about the twentieth time, I decided to stop absolutely everything I was doing and give her all of my attention. We had a delightful half hour painting our nails, and I allowed her to paint my toes which was a difficult task with her little fingers and my big feet, but she did a pretty good job! I was amazed at how still she was prepared to sit to let her nails dry, and how she let me do each nail carefully, although creatively stipulating that her feet be two different colours.

Lesson? Just stop and be a girl!

The washing, dinner, clothes and emails will all still be there. I know that sounds like a reworked cliche, and I am pretty sure that I know how to stop working to give my girls time. But this wasn’t about stopping to give them time…this was about putting things aside and sharing in some girls stuff together, and loving every second of it! Being proud to be a woman and let the girl out to play without worrying about anything else!

What are little girls made of?

Handbags, jewellery, shopping and nail polish that’s what my little girls are made of!

Lesson Six – The Kindness of Strangers

Lesson Six – The Kindness of Strangers

Lesson Six

Sometimes, people surprise you…in a wonderful way. I want my girls to be the surprising type. I fancy that my girls will  grow up spreading happiness to others who are lucky enough to cross their paths, and my next lesson is about compliments.

I am still a rookie Mum on co-ordinating the needs of the three of us when we go out, so a short shopping trip to do one thing, can take hours. I had just masterfully negotiated out of the toy shop to the parents’ room with a successful maneouvre around the playground.

I was hastily giving the girls consecutive nappy changes, getting food out for MJ and trying to get ourselves set up for a bf for AM.

I think my two year old thinks that my nappy change bag is a magic carpet bag – every snack option you present to her isn’t the one she is after, and the little angry dances that she does on the floor (of anywhere) are getting more fluid and cacophonous.

Anyway, I was managing all of this bedlam when a Mum of three children walked over to say ‘you are doing a really good job.’

My emotional reactions as a Mother are very easily ignited (as I’m sure most others are) and I could have either cried or hugged her on the spot.

I am a firm believer in telling somebody if they are a tag dag, but complimenting a stranger does not come naturally. I can comfortably strike up a conversation with another woman if they are changing their bubba whilst I am, and might even throw in a compliment about their efficiency or cute child.

However, this angelic woman managed to positively spin my day on its axis, and I will resolve to try and change somebody else’s day, in a startling way, with a thoughtful compliment.

I once read somewhere that Mark Twain said that “I can live for two months on a good compliment”. I can rework that by saying that long days by yourself with two little ones can be injected with renewed viguor when an unexpected compliment comes your way