Look, I said it once and I’ll shout it from the rooftops again and again: taking part in quarantine “pods” has saved my family during this pandemic. (We did one last summer and one this winter.) Mine is a tiny but mighty clan of three. My 7-year-old daughter spent the first three months of this sh*tshow without any other children around, and it was lonely and isolating and basically unsustainable. My extended family lives miles and miles — and in one case, a country — away.
So when we first joined up with dear friends to form a quarantine pod — aka “bubble”— last summer, our life changed dramatically. Suddenly we could share meals with friends. And playdates! And childcare! It was a total game changer for us. We’d found a way to feel so much less alone.
But. As we went along, there were also the inevitable hiccups, mostly born out of the fact that this situation was all so… new and odd and scary, and it all was uncharted territory. We had to work and adjust on the fly.
So! Given that today we’ve still got some Social Distance Living ahead of us, you might still be considering a pod? If so, I’m here to offer some unsolicited advice. No, I’m not going to lay out the safety precautions, because I’m going to assume you’re on that. I’m here to suggest the questions you might want to think about BEFORE you begin. Will this eliminate all wrinkles? It will not. But it should go a long way. Some of these questions I would never have known to ask back in June! But now that we’ve podded with two different families over the course of the past year, I can get a little more granular.
Of course, every pod is different. Some are more casual, others are structured and might even use a contract. Pods will vary depending on the participants’ style and comfort level — and surely on the level of Covid in your particular community — but these would be my top ten questions to think about before you start.
What kind of pod will it be?
For some families, supplying the kids with a weekend playmate is enough. Other families are more interested in trading off kid duties every single day after school. Some people just want to pod for “school.” Some pods, especially if they’re neighbors, want to merge households as much as possible. We’ve done the first two models — but keep in mind that there are all kinds of variations on what “podding” even means, so the terms should be established (or at least discussed) before you start. You’ll be hella disappointed if you were looking for daily kid swaps and frequent communal dinners and end up with a family who is only interested in hanging out on Saturday afternoons.
Is it okay that your friendship will now (also) be a business arrangement?
This is, to me, the weirdest part of podding up. Sometimes the people you adore the most are just not the right podmates for you for any number of reasons. Many people I know have formed successful pods with families with whom they’re not actually super close, but it works for some other compelling reason: their children are close in age, they’re down-the-street neighbors, their kids attend the same school. Being close friends is not a requirement.
Are you ready to have super awkward conversations?
Being podded is a *little* like being married in that you’re forced to work through issues that you’d otherwise ignore. Stuff will come up. Inevitably. For example, questions about safety or schedules or possible exposures may rear their heads, and the circumstances require openness and total honesty. Are you willing to have sit-down, get-into-it talks?
Will you be able to socialize with people outside the pod?
I don’t mean unmasked and in close quarters, obvs—that’s something reserved for your family and pod. Rather: are you allowed to sit in someone else’s backyard? Can your kids have socially distant playdates with other children, who might be in pods of their own, or attending in-person school? Can the grownups do porch cocktails? For some pods this is an obvious “sure”; for others, it’s a “no way.”
Do you need to consult one another about potential doctor/dentist/other medical appointments?
Now, I’m in L.A. which has really dismal infection rates, so some people don’t do ANY out-of-the-house outings or appointments. But not every community is in the same boat. What will be the norm in your pod? Will you alert everyone to your mammogram appointment? Do you need to specify that you made it for 7am (first appointment of the day!) or do your podmates feel comfortable just trusting that you’re making safe choices? Can you see the dentist for a routine cleaning, or only for an acute issue? What about well-visits for the kids? Or, as a pod, are you deciding to postpone all of these appointments for the time being?
Can the kids do sports teams/dance classes/music lessons (masked and/or outdoors)?
Obviously letting the kids have activities, physical and otherwise, is hugely important — but it can come with a level of risk depending on all kinds of factors. Where does the pod stand on these enrichment activities and any exposure that may come with?
Will your housekeeper/ nanny/ babysitter continue to come?
If, in pre-pandemic times you had someone help with household or parenting duties, will your podmates be comfortable if that continues while you’re in a bubble together?
How long will this pod last?
Is it just for Spring Break? The whole semester? Until schools open again? Play it by ear?
Does the risk feel evenly distributed?
This is a muddier and more emotional one, but can sometimes be at the heart of pod conflicts. If everyone feels that they are taking on and contributing the same level of risk, the rewards almost always make it worth it. Maybe my kid participates in baseball while our podmate’s kid is on the track team. Maybe I go to physical therapy once a month while the other mom goes into the office once a month. But problems arise when the risks are unevenly distributed — if, say, only my child is participating in a sports league; if only my family has our nanny coming; if only my children are attending in-person school or daycare. Invariably the other family may at some point feel resentment. Why am I taking on this particular risk for only your benefit?
Are you willing to take the good with the bad?
I’m not going to lie. Podding can be a challenge and sometimes requires going deeper than you ever imagined going with people outside your own household. But if you’re willing to do the work, it really can make a very isolating and abnormal time much more bearable. For kids and grownups alike.
Everyone okay? Yes, if I’d read through this list before podding up I might have been scared away. It’s a lot, and podding up can require some emotional and logistical gymnastics. But once you get your stride, and if you can do it safely, a pod can offer truly sustaining benefits: a joyful, warm pocket of normalcy inside a whirlwind of fear and uncertainty. And for some individuals and families, that is well worth it these days.