Category Archives: Parenting

‘The Kindness of Strangers’

‘The Kindness of Strangers’

‘When Angels Cross your Path’

Sometimes, people surprise you…in a wonderful way. I want my girls to be the type who are always surprising others. 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.

This lesson was first written when I was a rookie Mum of two small girls. When we went out, a short shopping trip could take hours. On this day, it was stressful and timely getting things done – banking, post office, but I had just masterfully negotiated past the toy shop to the parents’ room with a successful move around the playground.

I was hastily giving the girls consecutive nappy changes (yes, at one point, I did have two in nappies), getting food out for MJ and trying to get myself set up for a bf for AM.

I think my (then) Miss 2, used to think that my nappy change bag was a magic carpet bag – every snack option you would present to her wasn’t the one she was after, and the little angry dances that she would do on the floor (of anywhere) were getting more fluid and cacophonous. In fact, I’m unsure if she has changed that much, in either the snacking or dancing department.

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 look good (girl friends especially), 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.

As I sit in Leichardt, re-reading over this almost five year old post, I find angels still crossing my path. Today, I’ve been so desperate for an allotted one hour of writing that I have paced Norton St for an entire hour, wishing Master A to sleep. I have firmly concluded that the more I desperate I am for him to sleep, the more awake he ‘naturally’ is on that day. Or he can feel the laptop pressing into his behind stored under the pram, and he’s onto my need for work.  Today, I am in such need of some soul soothing with my dear old manuscript, that I have gone to incredible lengths to get in my planned one hour of writing for today (and the week, or probably fortnight as it’s school hols). I had booked this day in for more a month. It was carefully executed, with half a dozen emails on a thread to Miss 4’s preschool booking in extra days around the social calendar of MJ, who had an Art class booked this afternoon.

The day before, (because I am an idiot), I had come up with the genius idea of passing over Miss 4 in that afternoon time slot, so that I would be only left holding the baby. Of course, he would be ready for sleep then, and I could dash to the nearby library, and get my 1000 words in.

Then, two crises emerged – MJ, now a painfully sensitive 7 year old, is desperately tired from our toughest term ever, and refused to leave the house, or accept my rouse of just ‘dropping in’ to say hi to her friends at the class.

I had taken on a visit from Miss 4’s friend for an hour, so the house was total bedlam whilst MJ is threatening to leave home/lock herself in the bathroom/bedroom/etc/NOT GO to Art class. During these conversations, whilst I desperately attempted to coax her out, the 4 year olds and Master A begin a game of throwing things to see if they ‘bounced’ down the stairs. This is a new game never before attempted, and I was too distracted to get a good look at the objects being ‘tested’. They are rollocking in laughter, but the house has erupted in mess. Amidst this, I get a phone call from hubby asking why the preschool has just called him, at 1230pm, to ask where Miss 4 is. Yes, I am an idiot. I had booked Miss 4 in for the day, so that on Art day, I would have my free writing time.

Then my brain didn’t update my diary, in fact, I had ‘Preschool ?’ written in (as this was an extra day I had secured, not her usual). Whatever system I use to manage our children, it had failed me today. So there you go preschool, take a $180 donation from us, but please don’t feel you need to look after or teach my child. No, I’d rather her drive her sister to distraction all day. That’s the way I like my ‘holidays’ to go.

I kept calling my husband, increasingly desperate with each update, and his latest piece of advice, was to just put them in the car and head to Art class, ‘they’d be fine’. Unfortunately, my physical self prevents me from ever ‘forcing’ the kids to go anywhere. So, my friend came to the rescue and took the two troublesome (but cute) 4 year olds. Right, two down. Now, let the screaming begin. ‘It’s okay’, I said to her. ‘We will just go and see the girls, as we can’t see them any other day in the holidays, they have things on…so let’s just go and say hi.’ (genius move?, no, just wait…)

Well, we arrive in the car park, and the level of screaming that erupted I haven’t heard since we were in terrible twos. I tried to reach her to calm her, but she was so upset poor darling she didn’t want me to touch her. My next inspired move, call hubby. I’m on the phone when a lady in a painting apron comes over to the window. My first two thoughts are – a)they have realized she’s late and worried about going in to class, so they’ve magically materialized to collect her, b)I’m parked in the wrong spot, or I’m parked badly, and I’m about to get told off.

No, the artist was so concerned about the screaming she could hear from her studio (cue my embarrassment), that she’d come out as she’d imagined something terrible was occurring. I said -‘no, we just don’t want to go to class’ (how stupid am I? why am I there? What kind of a mother am I? – all of these thoughts enter my head. You’ve already wasted money on preschool, why not waste more money on missing art class?).

This beautiful lady, invited us to go in to see her studio, to see a real artist’s workshop, and as she spoke she talked about artists that inspired her. There were landscapes scattered across this gorgeous workspace. I said to MJ, that this lady, looked as though she painted similar subject matters to Uncle David. Well, this lady nearly collapsed on the floor with bewilderment, as apparently Hockney is her absolute favourite, and she is a huge fan. This angelic artist, went to where she could hear a crisis, and just offered her space and her time. This connection, no discussion or judgement on the reasons as to why she was tired/cranky/crying, made MJ suddenly happily skip up to class to see her friends.

So, I update this old post, still singing the praises of guardian angels, especially the beautiful Susan Baird, who works next to ‘Art Est’.

To cap it off, once I finally had Master A asleep on Norton St, and was starting to dash off my 1000 words, I had an older couple look over at me with wonder that I was working with a sleeping baby. ‘Wow, what an amazing woman you are with your laptop by your baby (umm….desperate idiot more like, I thought)…….what a beautiful baby. Do you have more?’

When I told them I had three, the lovely lady smiled and said ‘oh dear, what a job, you’ll go to heaven that’s for sure.’ I may be agnostic, but it still made me smile, and was the icing on top of a very hard day.

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!