Arts & CultureKiddie Dope

Athens Parents Have Turned Into Pod People

"Cocoon" Credit: 20th Century Fox

When I first heard about the “pods,” all I could think about was Cocoon and the glowing alien eggs in the pool the old folks used to energize themselves. Except these days, the pods are for kids, and it’s us parents who need the rejuvenation.

In case you haven’t heard, pods are the newest thing this fall when it comes to school. While I’d probably be fine with an alien beaming down and hanging out with my kids while they watch their teachers online, the concept revolves more around a small group of kids (or just a couple families) who are teaming up to assist with the learning. They agree to shoulder the burden—either by paying someone to guide instruction or sharing the homeschooling across a few homes—and in return, continue to shelter in place to stave off the coronavirus.

I’ve gone through what seems like several stages of grief during the podding-up process, troubled by the impossible decisions some parents must face if they work at a job that takes them outside the house, or the expense of hiring additional caregivers on an already thin budget. In late July, when it seemed clear that showing up for in-person school would create a perfect storm of COVID-19 cases, I waited, thinking surely we’d have some options from the school district that would allow for… something. Maybe we could commandeer churches or vacant stores in the mall and create smaller classes? Maybe we could rotate kids into their regular classrooms, with some learning remotely and some in-person? Maybe we could… oh, heck. There is no good answer here.

As time rolled on and the cases mounted, we—not just in my house, but across the state and the country—began to realize there was no plan. No guidance. No larger ideal framework from which we could draw inspiration. We were left on our own to figure it out.

This is when I went into parent hyperdrive. Facebook groups began to sprout up, connecting parents of kids with similar ages or situations. I scoured my neighborhood—then cast wider nets—looking for parents of a rising pre-kindergartener whom we could pair with, in some utopian fantasy where our kids were happily learning online while I was somehow still able to do my job, all in the comfort of my living room.

We needed an app. Except, I’d probably be doing a lot of swiping left to move on to the next one.

Now, I know for some, the pod idea has worked. They are able to connect with a teacher and are paying them a living wage, and they now have peace of mind going into the school year. How health insurance, liability insurance, workspace needs, materials and food all work out, I don’t know. But bless ’em, they’re making it work.

But for as many people who have connected and found a match, there are many, many more who are still searching for that special someone. For me, connecting with parents wasn’t the problem—It’s actually a heartening feeling to chat with a complete stranger and know you both want the same things for your child. But in the end, between schedules and siblings and any other number of conflicts, nothing’s panned out. So here we are, our family unit as a pod of one.

Exploring pods is also an interesting exercise in risk assessment. How much are you willing to trust a stranger to hold up their end of the bargain to only leave the house once a week? What if your pod partner (podner?) is an essential worker? What if they have older children with their own pod, or younger siblings in daycare?

I was a little surprised to learn about so many parents who have enlarged their pandemic “bubble” to include select families so their kids have a regular playmate. Throughout the summer, small playgroups have been meeting up, allowing parents a few hours of uninterrupted work while the kids rotate between homes. For kids who have been in school a few years, this makes sense—you entered the pandemic with a friend group, and you’re weathering the storm with them. But, with a child who just aged out of daycare and is now poised to enter Pre-K, we have yet to even make playdates a regular thing, never mind having a core group of friends. Our GroupMe of parents from our preschool class has splintered, with some kids even moving out of the area. We’re all, in a sense, starting from scratch.

And so, as the start of the new school year dawns, we’ll continue to hunker down and hope that my youngest child’s Zoom experience with his own parents bodes well for his education. 

I’m feeling a mixture of hope and dread. Hope because my kids are craving something—self-directed projects are only good for so much—but dread because I know that once a month my husband and I have to be on the same Tuesday morning meeting, right as our 4-year-old logs in. How many Zooms and Google Chats can our household accommodate? This is just one of the many questions I never saw coming this year. 

Good luck and Godspeed to all you parents out there. May the odds be ever in your favor.