Mom's mixed feelings over end of pandemic 'pod': 'I'm in the middle of the most wrenching breakup'

The authors kids on the playground that got them through the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Lindsay Powers)
The authors kids on the playground that got them through the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Lindsay Powers)

Lindsay Powers is a Yahoo contributor and the author of You Can’t F*ck Up Your Kids: A Judgment-Free Guide to Stress-Free Parenting, and contributor to the forthcoming book, Moms Don't Have Time to Have Kids: A Timeless Anthologyby Zibby Owens.

I’m in the middle of the most wrenching breakup. And, no, it’s not my marriage.

My unlikely “pod” of friends — born out of necessity in the darkest days of the pandemic — is saying goodbye.

On one hand, I’m thrilled that the COVID rates are low enough that I can expand my social circle beyond people who live within three blocks of my house, and that I can enroll my kids in things like swimming lessons again — but I am truly going to miss hanging out every day with my motley crew of parents and sitters and our kids, who range in age from 7 months to 7 years.

Unlike the stories of parents who blew six-figures hiring private tutors, my pod came together organically — and, critically, cost nothing.

In the late summer of 2020, after months of mostly quarantining inside, I sat on a playground bench six feet away from a friend whom I hadn’t seen in months; she was cradling the baby I’d never before met, and our older kids ran around in masks, laughing and chasing each other. “Hey, this is pretty great,” she said. “Let’s meet here every day at 4.”

So our daily routine was born — a source of calm amid the endless cycle of doom and gloom on the news, of school openings and closures, of too much and not enough work, of sickness and death.

Our group grew rapidly. Soon we were joined by an artist mom, who was taking computer programming classes at night, and her son. A first-grade-teacher-turned-sitter who would regale us with stories about the anti-maskers of her Florida hometown as the three kids under her watch invented games with my two sons. A lawyer-dad who took conference calls from the park bench. A mom who found herself homeschooling her two young daughters full-time after she unexpectedly lost her job.

playground
"Snow? We dressed in heat layers and parkas. Rain? We bought waterproof shoes," writes Powers.

The only thing we really had in common was that we all lived within a couple blocks of this particular playground — and we were all taking COVID precautions seriously.

We spent holidays together, always outside. On Halloween, we spread out in the playground so the kids could “trick or treat” among the adults, making sure to have toys in addition to just candy so that one of the children with special needs (and a special diet) could still have fun. The day after Thanksgiving, we had a “Black Friday” playdate. On New Years, we planned a piñata smashing to give 2020 the sendoff it deserved.

Snow? We dressed in heat layers and parkas. Rain? We bought waterproof shoes. Heat? One person always had sunscreen in their backpack.

It’s been nearly a year of talking about everything and nothing, while our kids played and fought like cousins. But now the sitter is going back to Florida, and her charges are going to summer camp. The unemployed mom is closing in on a new job, and her family has purchased a house — out of state. The lawyer dad has hired a nanny. We’ll still hang out in the park, but it won’t be the effortless “see you today at 4!” anymore.

I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings about these changes, which doesn’t surprise therapist Sadie Miller. “In a time of COVID, with many people being very isolated, a breakup of the primary source of socialization can feel much more intense than it would have in non-COVID times,” she tells Yahoo Life.

With so many people going through transitions now as the world opens back up, Miller offers some insight. “The anxiety comes from holding onto familiarity in a time when many things were changing and uncertain, which is your body's survival/protection mode coming out,” she says, adding that it’s natural we’re “craving stability.” Psychologist Jennifer N. Bress, who studies social anxiety at Weill Cornell Medicine and is assistant attending psychologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, says it’s “absolutely normal” to have conflicted emotions. “Give yourself permission to feel whatever you’re feeling,” Bress says. “This has been an unprecedented year that has both been incredibly difficult and, counterintuitively, has also brought positive changes for some people.”

Instead of dwelling on what we’re losing, Miller says we should focus on what we’re gaining (even if my kids are too young to be vaccinated).

When feeling sad or anxious about the changes, Miller says, remind yourself “that hopefully there will be many more new routines to latch onto in a world of more possibilities of social interactions.”

So in that spirit of possibility, I’ve decided to embrace this new chapter in our lives — while acknowledging that our pod saved my sanity and probably that of my kids’ during an otherwise terrifying moment in time. Change is never easy. But it is good.

We’ve survived 2020 and 2021, so far. We can get through anything. It just may not happen every day at 4.

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