If you are a parent of a child under five you will be accustomed to the stress, sleep deprivation and inability to look stylish for any length of time. Arriving, on the other side of the world, a stranger in a strange new place, can be daunting. Thankfully, Sydney will welcome you with open arms, baby vomit and all.
Staying at home with young children can be a lonely business. So, as a new arrival a good first step is to join a playgroup. Contact the Playgroups Association of NSW Inc on 1800 171 8882 or log on to www.playgroupnsw.com.au to find one in your local area. They typically run for two hours once a week as an informal get together for parents and carers. Some include painting, music and story time sessions to liven up the proceedings. There is usually a small fee ($7 approx) per visit or $30 a term. The most popular ones can have a waiting list of three to four weeks. There are some playgroups that are less structured and you can drop in any day of the week. Try The Holdsworth Community centre (02 9302 3610) in Woollahra-full of coffee drinking Mums watching their kids zoom around on toddler bikes and cars or getting creative with play dough. Over in North Sydney the Explorers Playgroup (02 9922 2299) meets Mon-Thurs mornings.
The local libraries are also a useful part of the neighbourhood. They usually run story time and movie sessions for young children during the week. Many also lend toys as well as books. The Bondi Toy Library (02 9300 0087) and Lane Cove Toy Library (02 9427 3569) also have a good choice of temporary toys. Gymbaroo (www.gymbaroo.com.au) runs hour long classes for children from 8 weeks to 5 years, focusing on exercise and motor sensory development. The classes are divided in to age groups, so it’s a good place for the little ones to socialise (and the mother’s to chat and moan together). For any budding drama queens (or kings) the National Institute of Dramatic Art (www.nida.edu.au) runs acting classes for the over 2’s. The website www.kidspot.com.au is a good one for everything from dance classes to party entertainers. A book called ‘Sydney for under 5’s’ by Seana Smith is a useful resource and ‘Sydney’s Child’ is a complimentary monthly magazine (available in Newsagents, Early childhood centres and Toy shops) packed full of stuff to make motherhood a little easier.
If you are looking for help at home, there is the usual selection of agencies that will find you a nanny, au pair or babysitter. Try Mothercraft & Nannies Pty Ltd on (02) 9663 4570 or on www.mothercraft.com.au or Nannies & Helpers Pty Ltd on (02) 9363 4221/ www.nanniesandhelpers.com.au. Expect to pay around $25 an hour for a qualified nanny (live out), $180.00 a week for an au pair (live in-30hours approx) and $15.00 per hour babysitting. To get lower rates for babysitting advertise at the local school/ask new friends if they recommend anyone and check notice boards at playgroups and community centres.
If you are looking for day care, what you choose depends on your likes and requirements. Family Day Care is run in a person’s home with a limited amount of children (usually no more than five) and for children 12 months or over (with some only taking children from 18 months or 2 years old). If you contact your local council or library they will have listings of private family day cares (expect to pay roughly $45 a day). Places can be hard to come by, as mothers plan ahead. However, Waverly Family Day Care (02 9389 9421/ firstname.lastname@example.org) or Mosman Family Day Care (02 9978 4162/ www.mosman.nsw.gov.au) can take the legwork out of finding a council run family day care. Just call with your local area, child’s age, and days needed and they will come back with what is available. It’s worth visiting a few, because standards vary-don’t settle for the ones with bored looking children and the TV on.
If you are working or just need longer hours, Long Day Care is an option (and you can always collect them earlier if you are missing the little darlings). Some take children from 6 weeks old and some from two years. The Department of Family and Community Services (1300 653227) can help with what’s available and what your options are. Prices vary from $39-$90 a day, dependant on location, equipment and kudos. Almost all long day care centres cater for children right up to school age, although some mothers prefer to move them to a pre school at 3 yrs because they feel it is better at getting their child ‘school ready’.
Enrolment forms are usually taken when a child reaches 18 months and they aren’t able to start till they are three (and toilet trained in most cases). Places at the best pre schools can be very difficult to get-so enrol early, call often to check if mid year places have come up and suck up to the head/administrators as much as possible. Priority is usually given to siblings, older children and in some cases children with special needs. Don’t panic if you can’t find a place to start with - best bet is to find a place at day care and move them if a place becomes available. For more details on day care and pre schools see list to follow.
If your child gets sick, there are two options. You can either visit your local private doctor, with a typical cost of $40.00 (with an approx. 30% Medicare* rebate). Or go to your local Health Care Centre with longer queues but no bill at the end (check that they ‘bulk bill’-the term that refers to the doctor billing direct to Medicare). The Early Childhood Centre in your area provides a free service for mothers of newborns and small children-including check ups (weight/height/developmental milestones) and is happy to help with any sleep/teething/tantrum related dramas you may be going through. They also provide a free vaccination service at the beginning of each month. If you are really pulling your hair out (baby that won’t sleep/settle/do anything you ask) or are suffering post natal depression, The Karitane Family Care Cottage (02 9399 6999 can be a Godsend. They have registered nurses specialising in child and family health and enrolled mothercraft nurses and clinical psychologists. If your child raids the medicine cabinet or drinks something lethal from under the sink, call the Poisons Information line (13 11 26-24hrs hot line).
Out and About:
The myriad of parks and beaches are a good spot for time with the kids. Balmoral Beach (North Shore) has a kiosk, a playground and a beach with sand the colour of butter. Parking can be tricky, especially at weekends. Over on the East, Neilson Park is a great beach with a café and Bronte Beach boasts a big playground, kid’s pool and hills just perfect for rolling down. You can even bring a bag of sausages and cook them on the many BBQs dotted round the park. Centennial Park is good for mums who want to get fit. Lots of pram friendly circuits to walk with a busy café, playground, and fountain area with kids happily getting their dresses wet.
If you are need some encouragement to get active and lose a few kilos, Pramfit (www.pramfit.com.au) runs exercise classes outdoors. So you can sweat in peace whilst the kid’s feed the ducks or play ball with the nanny they provide. And when you are clawing at the walls for a bit of ‘me time’ you can escape to ‘Yummy Mummies’ (02 9328 4418) in Paddington. They will happily cut, wax and polish you to perfection and look after the kids at the same time. You may still end up exhausted by 6pm, but at least you can watch TV looking glamorous!
* Medicare(132011) is the government run Health System. Visit your local office to get a Medicare card and you can reclaim a percentage of the cost of doctor’s visits and some medicines.