Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Child Care Lottery

Welcome to the child care lottery

The Mumdanity household has won the child care lottery!

Our name and number has been drawn from among thousands of other entries languishing in the mysterious child care application barrel, and we have been allocated two days a week in the nursery room of a local child care centre. 

The winning offer came unexpectedly, sliding onto my smartphone and into the rest of our lives as a straightforward plain text email.
There was no fuss, no fancy footing, no fanfare - just a short and simple email, offering a big and potentially heart wrenching family deal. 
The offer caught me completely off guard, partly because it was still early and I hadn't had time to inhale my morning coffee, but mostly because permanent child care positions are excruciatingly hard to come by in our
inner-outer, outer-inner Melbourne suburb.
Located on the cusp of the city fringe - where the suburbs hold hands with the central business district and the house prices are almost affordable - our suburb has recently experienced a rapid influx of pregnant couples and young families.

The local child care infrastructure has proved woefully inadequate in the face of the baby overflow, with the existing centres and providers barely able to touch the sides of the overwhelming baby boom demand.

Options abound, but the waiting lists are positively daunting: an average of two years for private centres, and an extraordinary average of three for the handful of council operated cooperatives and family day care providers.

In response to the crisis, my Parents Group has begun dedicating a large chunk of our weekly coffee catch up to child care acquisition strategies: centre tours taken, grovelling emails sent, desperate phone calls made, miraculous offers received, first preference wins whispered on the grapevine.

My husband and I have spent hours sitting around the dining table trying to crack the waiting list code -
we have thrashed out theories ranging from age to gender to parent profession to food allergy types to street locality to random selection by Twister game board - but have failed to come any closer to understanding the mystery. 

In light of the dastardly daring nature of the child care game, a win is right up there with coming across a full packet of Mint Slices hidden at the back of the breadbox or finding an unsquashed piece of banana beneath the high chair. Our
unprecedented lottery win knocked our collective non-cotton socks off, the brilliance encapsulated in the unpredictability of the draw and the magic wrapped up in the early January start date. 

Celebrations aside, though, you don't get anything for free - and much like every monetary lottery win comes with an unwanted tax, my child care lottery win comes with an unwanted cascade of emotional upheaval and mummy guilt.


Making the initial decision to enrol my baby girl in child care was a tough one - even just using the words 'enrol' and 'child care' in the same sentence as 'my baby' is still enough to make me want to have an impromptu litter of kittens.  

Like many parents and guardians who sign on the dotted child care line, my decision was based on a cacophony of inner voices and personal factors, and balanced precariously atop a wobbly stack of practicality, personalty, ideology and financial viability.  

While a big part of me feels hollow and panic-stricken at the thought of leaving my baby in care for ten hour blocks of time, I have come to accept over the last six months of soul searching and bad late night television that a key element of my mind is craving the balance and challenge of returning to work.

My professional self has been hidden in the cupboard with my pre-pregnancy jeans since I started maternity leave, and is clamoring to be allowed out for an airing. And my alliterating, argumentative, analytical self needs be rescued from the dish washing water before she bores the blogosphere to tears (sorry).

I have also come to accept that as much as I like the idea of living in my own private oasis and feeding off my (disheveled, wilting) vegie patch, utopia is just a sleep-deprivation-induced mirage and there is a financial imperative to go back to work on a part time basis - we are totally not in Kansas anymore, Toto!

Our little household is currently scraping by, but I would rather glide than scrape. I'd like to buy onesies with wild retail abandon, and pay bills ahead of schedule, and fatten up the abandoned piggy bank before I have to put him out to pasture.

Another scale-tipping factor is the belief that my daughter needs to play with other babies, and socialise outside our little family circle of three. My husband and I are familial strangers in this city, imports from another state without a network of family and cousins spread around us,
and we are the first among our friends to cross the parenthood bridge. We play games and sing songs and roll around on the floor, but there is only so much you can do before the baby works out you are not actually another baby at all.

She needs to learn to play with other little people, share her toys and not bite explorative fingers and passing elbows. She needs to learn to sleep in different environments, and pat bunny rabbits, and stack blocks with the other kids and drink from a big girl cup. She needs to be allowed to grow and explore, just like her mummy and daddy.

Rationally, I stand firm behind my decision. But the crushing reality of having to actually leave my daughter at a child care centre and just drive away - just drive away - is pushing down on my soul like a full-term baby's crown pushing against a tired cervix.

I've made the decision, I've won the child care lottery - but am I still gambling?

M x

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  1. Yes, it is a personal decision and every family is different. For me, getting my son into daycare was one of the hardest and best decisions I've ever made. I cannot tell you how happy I am now (three years later) to see him play with friends that he has known his entire life. He has incredible social skills and I love hearing about his day and continuing the lessons he gets from school at home. With the regular break from him to explore what makes me happy, I think I've become a better person, wife and mother. Congratulations!

    1. Thanks Lauren. I'm looking forward to watching my daughter forge friendships, and treading some new horizons of my own :)