We’re Living in a Quarantine Pod With Another Family, and It’s the Only Thing Keeping Me Sane

Last night, we went to our neighbors. The kids ate cheese pizza in the kitchen and watched children’s movies on Netflix together in the bedroom. The adults ate pizza with arugula and drank wine in the living room. Friday evening, it could have been relaxed, but since March 23, when orders for home stays started due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these simple and discreet gatherings have taken on an illicit air.

We are not an immediate family. We formed a pod. Our children are coronasiblings, and I cannot imagine how we could have survived otherwise.

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While vacationing in South Carolina a few years ago, we learned from marine life that dolphins raise their young this way. The females and their young travel in groups, working together to feed all the young and keep them safe. As lesbian moms who rely on a network of unofficial parents and aunts to manage the parenthood of two little humans, the concept resonated with us and has not been forgotten.

We are not one to get around the rules, and we are certainly not one of those who protests against home stay orders. We wear masks when we go to the store. We stay at home, it’s just that the house is now two apartments instead of one.

The arrangement was born organically and almost instantly. It was a confusing time, each of us looking for something we could still control. My partner bought a bicycle, so that we could escape the apartment which did not depend on public transport. I was drinking about four pounds of Italian roast that I had panicked from Starbucks lest our sources of high-quality beans be on the verge of extinction. My daughter wanted to go to her usual monkey bars in the neighborhood park. This was before the yellow signs went up to warn that the playground equipment was not sterile, followed by the red signs announcing that they were closed indefinitely, the doors closed chained.

I said we could go there a little, as long as we kept our distance from whoever was there. Our neighbor Gabrielle showed up with her father, like a normal afternoon. Except that his father and I sat carefully on separate benches and I sprayed disinfectant on the children’s hands when they jumped from the jungle gym. My partner arrived on the new bike later and I brought the coffee home and put on my jogging clothes. When I returned from the race, my partner was alone in our apartment.

The children were at Gabrielle’s, she said. She had discussed it with her mom, and they both felt okay. “Oh, thank God,” I said. “It will make it much easier.” And that’s the case. Our routine at home may be sloppy, mainly due to the emotional exhaustion of adults, but the meeting schedule is solid.

Every afternoon when I have guided the kids through as many learning activities and to-do tasks in Google Classroom as we can handle, we trample on our feet in shoes, hang the dog on its leash and descend four flights of stairs to our humble courtyard. My son yells at Gabrielle’s bedroom window, “Are you already done?”

The courtyard is neglected and trampled by recently completed construction work, but even this small green space was essential to our well-being during the isolation. I never would have guessed that a few strips of asphalt surrounded by bushes could provide as many hours of entertainment.

A young girl wearing a Covid facial mask

Prepare to go play with your “coronasister”.

Courtesy of Marie Holmes

They found long sticks and played wizard games, used wooden debris to build a fort, and reused an old intercom as spy equipment. COVID-19 brought them the taste of a carefree and suburban childhood where the front doors are left open and the only rule is to be back for dinner.

The addition of another playmate reinitializes the dynamic between my son and my daughter, allowing them to cooperate non-combatively after a long day of conflict inside the apartment. In turn, Gabrielle receives a few playmates.

As any teacher can tell you, children act differently at school than at home. When there is an audience of their peers, they are likely to refrain from potentially embarrassing behaviors like tantrums and moans, and once Gabrielle joins us, I can count on a relatively peaceful afternoon for everything the world.

Later, the kids travel in packs to one apartment or another for dinner and a movie, while a pair of parents get a few hours to work, clean up, or soak in complete calm. At 7 p.m., they lean against the window security bars, beating wooden spoons on the bottom of the steel pans to encourage the city’s essential workers.

Once the evening’s film is finished, we meet in the courtyard and rearrange to put everyone back in bed for the night. The kids still do a few sprint and hedge jump laps – “Let’s jump over the bushes and howl,” Chicken nuggets! “” – while the adults are staring at the stars, chatting without haste, and for a while the sirens are quiet, unemployment is far away and it feels like it was all a carefully planned camping trip.

Seeing each other like this every day gives children a sense of normalcy in the midst of a crisis that has taken away most of their usual routines. Together, we shared an Easter egg hunt and dinner, as well as a bright pink heart-shaped cake for Mother’s Day. Conversing with another family also gives adults assurance that our struggles are mutual, from how to keep a child attached to a Zoom call to determining when it’s time to leave a beloved city.

two children dying easter eggs

Prepare for Easter.

Courtesy of Marie Holmes

There was a moment of doubt when my 6 year old daughter fell asleep on my lap one morning and woke up red and feverish. I surely thought that she had exposed everyone, if not to COVID-19 and then to another virus, and the two families mutually agreed to remain separate for a while. Fortunately, her symptoms subsided quickly and our pediatrician advised us not to take her to the emergency room unless she was no longer sick. After a few days, she rushed back into the yard with her coronasister.

One day while they were playing, Gabrielle stopped and said, “You know, when it’s all over, I will really miss you.” It wasn’t that our kids weren’t playing together before COVID-19, but they weren’t playing like that. There was always another commitment to achieve, another project to finish, or a bedtime to stick to – but now the weather itself has changed. It stretches far ahead of us, offering a bonus of minutes.

Watching them laugh in the yard the other night, my neighbor observed, “They will remember this as a strange and magical chapter from their childhood.” Children may not understand now, but adults all know how fortunate we have been to escape the worst consequences of the pandemic. We obviously would never have chosen to live this way, but without living this way, we could not have enjoyed some of its benefits. Without the option of other commitments or distractions, they build their world with unprecedented ingenuity and imagination.

Adults also imagined. How can we bring back a piece of this temporary and exceptional life to the land of normal? How can we stop time and create space to truly connect with the people we interact with every day? How can we see the full value of others when our daily goals are all so goal-oriented rather than people-oriented?

We do not know how to make the magic last, but it is clear that this will involve following the example of our children.


Marie Holmes lives in New York with her partner and their children.

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