This morning I took a tour of yet another childcare centre and I have to tell you, it sounds lovely. Five meals a day, often made with local organic ingredients, prepared with far more care for nutritional balance than my own diet. Large airy rooms spreading out to shaded courtyards and grassy gardens, with lots of space to roam. Each child has napping space, toys to play with, and constant attention from adoring staff who are willing to do anything to keep them happy, up to and including nappy changing.
I could see the other mums in the group, all with bubs in arms, looking impressed too. It all sounded idyllic right up until the Centre Director mentioned to the waiting list.
“So, we have sixteen places for children under two-years-old here. And there’s 500 on the waiting list.”
There was a thunderstruck pause. “Sixty?” asked one mum hopefully, as she jiggled her fretting baby.
“No, sixteen.” the director clarified.
One woman piped up, “I’m looking for a space in January 2015, so I’m okay, right?” She instantly earned a whole heap of hate from the other women there, babes-in-arms, who had just realised that their chances of going back to work or just getting some sleep had gone as tits-up as Lindsay Lohan’s career. But the director looked helpless and shrugged. “Maybe. We really can’t guarantee. We have a long waiting list.”
No shit. About as long a teenage boy’s celebrity-fuck wish-list, and with about as much chance of getting in from what I can see. The whole morning was like being given a glimpse of what life could be like for you if you were Ryan Gosling’s girlfriend, before being informed of the odds on ever even meeting him.
I wasn’t surprised; I’ve been around a few centres now and they all advise you to sign up for as many as possible in the hope of getting a place. Given I’m just a little pregnant – and could just be fat, let’s face it – I get confused looks from the other Mums present. As soon as the insanity that is the waiting-list gets mentioned though, it all makes sense, and I get glares instead.
As a general guideline you can sign up for a waiting lists for a small fee whenever you want. I found one that will only accept women who are pregnant (but didn’t, thankfully, demand I pee on a stick there and then) but some will pop your name down, no questions, in the complete absence of any impending child. In many cases it can take 3 years to work up to the top of the list, if you ever do – I have one friend who was finally offered a space for his daughter on the day she started school at age 5. So if you’re considering children, it actually makes sense to sign up before you throw away the birth control.
The system in New South Wales is that childcare has to prioritise those who need it most; single parents, families on very low incomes, children with disabilities. Which is good and laudable and all that, but means that a working couple on a good income in Sydney’s lovely but overcrowded Inner West have about as much chance of getting the place they want – for the days they want, from when they want it – as I do of becoming Australia’s next Top Model.
I’m not sure why the various centres bother with the tours and trying to impress us as we have about as much real choice in the matter as Americans do when voting. You can want what you want, but you’ll get what you get, and I have every intention of grabbing any spot I am offered with both hands and my bared teeth. If there’s a space available – and the centre doesn’t use the words “gulag” or “penal” in the name – The Child will be going in.
In fact, given how nice the various childcare places seem and the relative dreariness of old folks’ homes, I think I’ll book myself into childcare for my old age instead. Five decent meals a day, lovely surroundings, constant available staff and my nappies changed for me? Sign me up.
And if I sign up now – about 35 years in advance – who knows? I might actually make it to the top of the waiting list by the time I need it.