This year, back to school season looks a bit diff here at Casa Lonic. With California Covid numbers still not really under control, we were informed a few weeks prior to school beginning that our district would be starting the academic year full on distance learning, aka, home school. When news of this hit, I must say, as a dual working household, I was anxious and overwhelmed to add teacher to my list of jobs…again, especially after how our Spring had gone down here. Cue scary flashbacks of kindergarten homeschooling with twins. Yet, as a frightened parent during a pandemic, I was also relieved that my kids wouldn’t be going out into a weird and potentially socially awkward environment, having to stay six feet apart from friends and unable to express or see emotions on their own and others’ faces. It was a mix of feelings and being the planner I am, I was having a hard time figuring out how I was going to make this work…while also work.
Most parents were facing the same dilemma. In fact, even in the homes where one parent didn’t have a traditional job and was responsible for the childcare, I could hear the stress in their voices for the upcoming war we were getting ready to enter. You’ve heard it before, it takes a village. And with the pandemic and distance learning, it was feeling like our villages were filled with nomads, all up and leaving overnight. Our villages had basically become ghost towns and we were left sitting there wondering how we were going to parent, teach, feed, provide a safe and clean environment, and take conference calls in between. It was daunting.
And then, I got the text. “Hey, do you want to join a pod?”. I’d heard this new term thrown around and I’d been open to the idea that when school started, we could potentially team up with another family or two to lighten our loads by sharing the home school wealth. But, I didn’t know exactly if it would work for us and, most importantly, who it would work for us with. I wasn’t in a position to become the teacher, even if it meant part-time since I knew other parents would also bear this role. And I wasn’t ready to just let my kids start socializing with anyone, especially folks who weren’t treating the pandemic environment like I was, with a fair amount of caution. So, as excited as I was to get the “invite”, one of my first questions was, “Who’s in the group?”.
Here's the thing. I know very well someone else might not want me in the group either, I get that. So, I don’t want that to come across like I, and I alone, could make that choice of who’s in and who’s out. I’m definitely not the judge and jury here. I do think it is SO important, though, if you’re going to pod, that you feel the people you pod with are on the same page you are when it comes to Covid lifestyle. If you’re laid back, great! If you’re not, great! Just find a family or more who is treating the pandemic similarly so there’s no weirdness down the line. This is sort of like mixing business with pleasure. Just because you’re friends, doesn’t mean you’re going to make good podmates.
Once we had a small group of us willing to give the pod a go, we all got on a Zoom call and started chatting. As you can imagine, we all had questions on how this would go, and none of us really had answers. This was new turf for everyone. We brainstormed ideas. We delegated research. And most importantly, we discussed our current lifestyles and our comfort levels with the potential situation at hand. We all agreed on hiring a tutor to support the independent learning and got to work finding the right fit.
Now, everyone’s mother who was interested in podding was out there looking for a Mary Poppins to teach their kids. Facebook groups were popping up. Nextdoor posts were appearing. The competition was on. Some quotes we received were in the hundreds per hour. It was insanity. But then, one of our pod moms found a fantastic lead who we decided to interview on Zoom. She was a former preschool teacher turned early intervention specialist. She was local. She was within budget. She asked the most thoughtful questions. And her glowing references raved about her. Without looking like we were creepily obsessed with her from the start, we played it (sort of) cool (I mean how cool can parents really be?) and hired her within a couple weeks.
During this time, one of our pod dads drafted an agreement that we all signed to ensure rules were understood across the board, schedule was noted, pay was agreed upon, and basically, no one could sue anyone else. Gotta love ‘Merica. This made the pod feel like the real deal and not some flimsy group you could join or not, and also protected anyone from getting stuck with someone else’s share of payments. It also made this a business transaction, which meant no hard feelings if you decided to opt out-just follow the terms of the agreement. Between the time the agreement was drafted and the week before school started, we were down to half our families (two) and we were ready to do this thang.
As much as it kind of sucked to go down to two families vs. four from a financial standpoint, it actually did make things easier logistically. Since we were ping-ponging between homes, now we only had two locations to deal with. Since we were only down to three kids vs. six now, our fabulous tutor offered to include younger siblings twice a week-score! Honestly, it kind of worked out for the better in the end.
We’ve just wrapped our first pod month and I have to say, it’s been an incredible addition to distance learning here. I wanted to share a list of benefits you may not even think you get from this type of investment, and yes—it is an investment, one I wasn’t budgeting for when I moved into my nice neighborhood with expensive taxes for my good school district, but 2020 has thrown us a lot of curve balls, hasn’t it? So, here they are, if you’re considering this sort of thing for your 2020 academic year:
1. The obvious—teaching support from someone who is probably better at it than you are. I was worried I was going to really eff up my kids’ opinion of learning and school if their memories of first grade were mostly me yelling at them to write their E’s like this or focus on their math problems…repeatedly. Hiring a tutor has resolved that concern because I see them having fun and learning in a much more positive and more focused environment.
2. The hidden--I wasn’t even aware how much the lack of socializing was affecting these kids until they started seeing a friend every day. Since we’re a large family, there’s always someone to talk to here and the kids have proven to be so cr