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Weird Stuff: an Open Letter to North Alabama Parents

Weird Stuff: an Open Letter to North Alabama Parents


Family of three seeking another family of three for science experiments and weekend fun. We like robotics, hiking, playing Minecraft, and taking long walks on the beach. Must spend time with only our family. Must wear masks. No weird stuff.

Long walks on the beach? Probably not going to happen right now. Weird stuff? Unavoidable.

Parents, let’s talk about this weird stuff.

Weird viruses. Weird schooling. Weird relationships.

We are all struggling to adjust to new lifestyles right now. Four weeks ago I started a new life as a matchmaker. Okay, not really. I set up a Facebook group called Safer-at-Home Schooling Support Group Madison County. I wanted to create a supportive place for families to navigate alternative learning paths. A place where families could create grassroots solutions by connecting with one another. What does such a place look like?

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Well, it looks a bit like a dating site.

Your Pod, or Bubble, or Quaranteam

Our members are seeking others to help fulfill their learning, socialization, and childcare needs.
A friend of mine, now a partner in matchmaking, decided a couple of months ago that she was not comfortable sending her 4th grader back to school. Her preference was for her child to do virtual learning at home, or in another home, with a caregiver. She put out feelers and her problem looked like a promising solution for my family. I wasn’t looking for childcare since I’m a stay-at-home mom, but I was wondering how I was going to keep my son engaged in learning and hold myself more accountable for his learning. Bringing another child into our home would address both of my concerns and solve her dilemma.

That was the inspiration for the group. I knew that other families faced similar dilemmas, and if we had found a solution maybe we could help others do the same. My friend and I, along with two others, began building the group. Membership quickly doubled after all school districts within Madison County delayed reopening.

The dating profile above, ludicrous as it is, demonstrates what is happening in our group of two thousand members. Families are forming pods to collectively meet their needs. Grade levels, proximity, shared interests, and goals are used to match families. Covid-19 concerns obviously must be factored in, and that is where things get considerably weird.

I’ve learned that pods, also known as bubbles or “quaranteams”, have been used for months in some places to meet the social needs of adults. New Zealand, the gold standard for Covid-19 management, has been encouraging pods of two individuals since May to contend with the negative effects of isolation and loneliness. When individuals or families form pods with others, selectivity is key. Balancing one’s needs with Covid-19 risks requires asking uncomfortable and invasive questions. Questions often only used on the dating frontier. “Will you go steady?” That’s a weird question, but pods must be exclusive to maintain the health of members.

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My fellow matchmakers and I have compiled a list of such questions for families to use when interviewing one another. Knowing that these questions are standard among members will hopefully alleviate some of the awkwardness. An agreement section is also included to help families set boundaries within these weird relationships. “Do you agree to use protection when you see others?” Well, that’s one way of asking others if they will wear masks.

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Risk-Averse, but not Risk-Free

Parents, if the idea of a pod is appealing, remember that when a pod’s membership increases, so does the likelihood of contracting Covid-19. Out of choice, or perhaps necessity, the risks your family takes will be lower or higher than that of other families. These levels of risk will be reflected in your pod as you choose compatible members.

In the absence of absolute solutions, each pod will be different. I think we must accept that our unique pods and Covid-19 lifestyles are weird and may not make sense to others. The best thing you can do is find the one that closely aligns to your family’s “weird”.

It’s complicated.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Heather Morgan grew up in Enterprise, Alabama. She and her husband have lived in Madison County for 15 years. She is a stay-at-home mom to an 8-year-old with cochlear implants. She has a background in environmental education. She enjoys long walks in the woods.

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