Why & How to Form a Pandemic Pod
When schools abruptly closed in our city on March 11 due to the first case of COVID-19, life with our four kids, including our twin high school seniors, was turned on its ear. With three teens and a seven-year-old, we knew that it would be challenging but we didn’t expect our youngest to be hit the hardest emotionally.
My teens were missing out on a lot, especially our high school seniors, but they were able to process things on a higher level and have coped pretty well over the last eight+ months being home, it was our little guy who was beyond lost. He would hold it together during the day until dinnertime when he would whisper in my ear, “I miss my friends,” then burst into tears.
Our Governor had issued a stay-at-home order for the state which we took seriously, but as the days melted into weeks and eventually months, we saw many people give up and start socializing willy nilly without regard to masks or social distancing. My youngest would gaze wistfully from his bedroom window at the neighborhood kids in groups on our street bouncing from house to house without a mask or a care in the world. Neighborhood houses were having big parties and behaving as if life was back to normal yet here we were remaining diligent…alone as a family…as cases continued to surge in our community with schools remaining shuttered as a result.
We knew that our youngest desperately needed some contact with a friend beyond a screen but how could we safely do it? Could we trust anyone? Who was still staying the course for the long haul and being careful with protocols?
Enter our pod family.
As Preeti Malani, M.D., an infectious disease physician at the University of Michigan’s Academic Medical Center put it best, “Being in a pod is like being in a little row boat together and trying to stay dry. If someone from the boat jumps into the water and then tries to climb back on board, the boat could tip, or they could get their fellow passengers wet. Taking on too many passengers could make the boat sink.”
Our Experience Podding with Another Family
I met our pod family when our sons were in the same kindergarten class and had become fast friends. The boys landed in the same first grade class too and by then the mom and I had been texting daily. In fact, she was sitting at my dining room table in January 2020 for lunch when the first alert about a novel coronavirus popped up on her phone. Little did we know then how it would impact the world and every aspect of our lives.
As we tried to meet the needs of our kids in those early days of shutdowns due to COVID, I knew that our families were totally on the same page in following protocols and being beyond diligent about social distancing. Our pod dad chairs our city’s school committee, and I knew the tireless work he was doing to make our schools safe in case they were able to open, so I trusted their family implicitly. They had three kids, and by the start of the summer, we started tossing around the idea of podding our families together.
Just like Dr. Malani mentioned in her row boat analogy, we knew that the only way for this to work and ensure the health and safety for both of our families was to be intimately transparent with our daily whereabouts and any physical symptoms. We shared every detail of our lives and the fruit of this oversharing was the freedom to spend time together in person.
The Mundane Becomes Special
When our pod family dad entered our house one hot Sunday afternoon in early July, he looked around wide-eyed and said, “I haven’t been inside of anyone’s house since the winter…this is so weird.” We began biweekly playdates: Tuesdays we’d host, Thursdays they’d host. Seeing the kids play hide and seek or run around the yard carefree and happy for the first time in many months was joyous.
The pandemic turned mundane things into big events like having a non-family member in our home or car. For an end of summer treat, our pod family took my son along to our local farmer’s market to get shaved ice having confirmed first that masks and social distancing would be in place. Our pod dad said to our son, “You’re the first non-immediate family member to be in our minivan in I can’t remember how long.”
There were other everyday things (like haircuts) that became challenges. I’d been cutting my husband and kids’ hair for years to save money, teaching myself over time through online tutorials. Before we started podding, I had loaned our pod family my clippers but being thrown cold into haircutting at home wasn’t working so I went over to help and show them some tricks I’d learned to make the process go faster. I ended up cutting our pod dad’s hair.
Facing the Long Road Ahead and An Uncertain Winter
As strange as it has been to share virtually every detail of our lives with another family, it has also bonded us in ways we couldn’t fathom before the pandemic. Our pod dad’s signature is printed on our twins’ high school diplomas forever marking a reminder that no matter where life brings us we will always remember this shared experience for our two families. Our respect for each other is immense and I’m incredibly grateful for them as I know our youngest would have struggled deeply were it not for their consistent diligence. It has made a time of deep uncertainty easier for our kids.
To salvage Halloween this year we decided to do a pod family dinner and candy hunt for the kids starting at our house then driving to theirs…a far cry from last year when we went trick-or-treating together without a care in the world. Our city is now facing a challenging fall and winter as our COVID cases continue to persist and rise and schools remain fully remote as a result. With the holidays looming we’ve decided to be even more careful and go back to no in person contact until this next surge flattens. If the pandemic has taught our family anything, it’s gratefulness for each day and an even greater appreciation for the tiny blessings in life.
With cases surging across much of the country, it’s extremely important to follow rigorous safety protocols so podding right now, no matter how careful, may not be a safe option. Below are five tips to help you decide:
5 Tips to Successfully Pod with Another Family:
1. Agree to Ground Rules
For a pod to work, every member must be 100% on board with comfort levels and risk tolerance including an agreement of what is and isn’t safe. We were like synchronized swimmers with our pod family as decisions were made collectively for safety and health.
This went for our teens too; they knew from the get-go their actions would impact the rest of the family, so they’ve been just as diligent staying home. If you find that you’re mismatched in this area with a potential pod family, it’s important to find out before, not after you enter an agreement. If one family thinks it’s fine to eat inside of restaurants or go maskless and the other isn’t, that’s a mismatch and potential dealbreaker.
2. Share Concerns and Work Out a Plan
Talk as families and share your greatest concerns. One concern both of our families had was the continued ability to see aging grandparents. Thankfully, the grandparents on both sides agreed to be just as vigilant as we all were. Work out a plan about how you’re going to pod with a willingness to adjust those plans as needed and based on current health information. We decided twice weekly play dates for the kids and some socializing for us while the kids played but that may look different for your pod. We’ve also agreed as families to limit trips to stores as necessary only to get food, etc. No restaurant dining in or out (take-out only) and no non-essential trips. Now with cases surging we’ve pulled back to no in person contact.
3. Be Brutally Honest
The most important factor in successful podding is honesty. This is not a time to withhold anything as your actions can threaten the health and lives of others. What people say and what they do sadly sometimes don’t add up so don’t assume…ask! Trust is built upon honesty and you must tell your pod family if you’ve done anything that could potentially expose the group.
4. Frequent Communication
It may seem like overcommunication, but no piece of information is too small during a pandemic as you’re ethically bound to let your pod know about what you and your household are doing. Our pod is in daily contact communicating our movements and decisions. If our teen has an orthodontic appointment they know about it. If they have a medical appointment, we know about it. Remember you really are in this together!
5. Discontinue Podding When it Isn’t Safe
With cases surging in our community and across the country, pods need to be adaptable and be willing to move back to no contact for an added measure of safety. With our city in the red zone and with the holidays upon us, we’ve decided to halt our in person play dates until cases flatten choosing instead to have the kids FaceTime instead. This is also a teachable moment for our kids to understand that we’re doing this to keep everyone healthy. It’s important to stay informed by following CDC guidelines and the guidelines of your local community health officials.
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