Families with both parents working are not uncommon these days and where there are two working parents, early childhood care is something of a necessity. One would think that getting child care that meets your requirements should be fairly easy – especially given the fact that working parents are often prepared to pay an arm and a leg for it. However it is anything but simple. Selecting and enrolling into a childcare center for your young one is a minefield out here in Australia. I have only just started out in this game and I get this sneaky feeling that I am getting it all wrong.
Firstly I am told that I have been very late in applying. I put my daughter’s name down at the nearby daycare centres when she was around 2 months old. That is apparently way too late. Some people get their future babies enrolled when they are at the planning stage. Majority do it during the pregnancy period. The remaining few do it as soon as their babies are born. (No, they do not wait to rest and recover from the delivery or bond with their babies. They drop everything and rush to their nearest daycares ) Seems I am a lazy person and an irresponsible parent. My pregnancy itself was unplanned – so planning for day care at that stage was out. During the pregnancy and just after delivery, I found myself struggling with my changing body, a full time job and then the new baby. So I put thoughts of future childcare out of my head. “It can’t be that hard to get into a childcare centre! There are so many around!” I told myself. Wrong on all counts!!!
During my daughter’s 4th week visit to the Maternal and Childcare Centre, the nurse said to me “I see you are planning to go back to work after five more months. Have you got a place at a daycare for your baby?” When I looked quite blank, she tut-tutted and pulled out a sheet with loads of daycare center names, addresses and numbers. She warned me that the centers often have long waiting lists and it was best not to delay any longer. I took the sheet. But I still had no idea about the gravity of the situation and so it was another month before I got around to dialing some of the numbers.
The first one I tried was an early learning center close to our home and it was part of a large well-maintained private school that I had admired many a times from the outside. The lady who answered was quite brusque “Sorry, we have no vacancies for the whole of 2013”. What? It was barely October 2012!
The next few places I called up were slightly more promising. They asked me to visit their center and then have my daughter’s name on the waiting list if I was happy after inspection. So what followed were a few weeks of running around the different centers close to our neighborhood Helpful friends chipped in with their bits of advice about the inspections –‘It is very important to choose the right childcare or else it can have a bad effect on your baby’, ‘Look for a center where the children seem happy instead of crying!’, ‘Try and drop in unannounced. That way you can get a good feel of what the staff is really like.’
Despite all that advice, frankly I had no idea what I was looking for. Each center seemed reasonably well staffed; slightly untidy with toys and apparatus strewn all over; the food being offered was mostly uniform; each claimed to be sun smart; the fees were all on the steep side as expected and the kids everywhere were … basically kids! There was a fair mix of laughing babies and crying ones at almost all centers Nowhere did I catch center staff spanking naughty babies. There were no visibly sick babies being kept in the center (not that I could tell). By the end of 3-4 such visits, I was hopelessly confused. So I put my daughter’s name down at each place I visited with a start date of April/May 2013. Each one told me that they would give me call when a vacancy comes up.
Months passed by and I heard nothing. I joined back at work in January. My parents looked after the baby when I was at work. All was well except that my parents were scheduled to return to India in April. So I would definitely need care from April onward. Then finally there came a call at the end of January. My daughter had got a seat at a day care center close by but it came with a condition. She would have to join immediately instead of waiting till April. Yes, more than two months in advance as a vacancy had come up and the center would not hold a place for her till April. I had to let them know my acceptance right away. The lady on the phone seemed to imply that two months was nothing. But two months, I felt, is quite a long time when one is not even six months old. Besides, my parents had come all the way from India to spend this time with their grandchild. So I said a ‘No’. I asked the lady to put me back on the list for April but I understood from her tone they would not be calling me anytime soon.
None of the other centers have said much yet. I have called a number of times to follow up with them. I get all sorts of responses. One particular center had lost the application form I had sent in. Another one that had earlier asked me to call up in the New Year, told me when I did call up on time ‘Why are you calling us now? Call us closer to the time when you need enrollment ’ One center said that they have kept my daughter on the waiting list but she would get priority only if I enroll her for their private school as well with a non-refundable $400 deposit right now.
Well I always known that daycare would not be smooth sailing. But frankly I had envisaged problems from other quarters. I had thought about having to deal with pangs of ‘mommy–guilt’ after leaving my darling there. I could imagine the baby screaming and crying when we dropped her off at the center and it being heart-wrenching for us to leave amidst her sobs. Then there were all the nasty germs waiting for my poor baby there and those might translate into urgent calls from the centre, doctor visits, absence from work, etc. I could also foresee how picking up the baby from the centre on time might be a struggle on some days as both I and my husband have heavy workloads.
However I had never imagined the childcare system would be so challenging even without having started. For heaven’s sake, it is not an Ivy League college we are aiming for …or a school… or even kindergarten! If admission into childcare is so tough, I wonder what those are like! I don’t think I want to know.