Until last week I hadn’t set foot in a playgroup for years. My eldest son, now six is in year one at school and my youngest, just five weeks old, has a few months to go before he’s ready for blocks and biscuits. Yet I was meeting a new friend with a newborn who also has an active toddler so she suggested we meet at her local playgroup.
Walking into that church hall on a rather soggy Thursday morning was confronting and to be honest, not all that appealing. I had just left the calm confines of a local hipster cafe and was cursing myself for agreeing to this as a squealing two-year-old hurled a pull-along-dog into my ankle.
For the princely sum of two dollars I decided that I had nothing to lose, so I signed up and joined the club. I was given the grand tour of the two large adjoining rooms filled with toys, kids (lots of kids) mums, grandmas and one or two grandads.
On doing the introductory rounds I was repeatedly apologised to about it ‘not usually being this noisy’, due to the rain and out-of-bounds garden area. But 20 minutes in, and after chatting to the friendly woman and her in-laws who ran the group, I felt ashamed for being a judgmental snob and I made myself at home on an old comfy sofa.
I spoke to a number of mums, some from overseas with no family nearby, who all seemed to know each other well. One of the ladies had bought in a delicious homemade morning tea to go with the provided tea and coffee, another got busy distributing party food and balloons as it was one of kid’s birthdays.
I watched as women held each other's babies while they ate or went to the loo and the whole relaxed setting reminded me of being at a big, loud family gathering, which for many of them, is exactly what the playgroup represents.
All of the women I spoke to emphasised what a fantastic resource the playgroup was and how very welcome and safe they always felt.
While a bit shabby round the edges and ostensibly 'just a playgroup', it did make me realise how important these supportive communities are for parents of young children. All over Australia weekly playgroups run by volunteers at churches, charities and community centres on tiny amounts of cash, are lifelines for many mums, dads and grandparents.