About a week ago, we (Courtney, a white mom in Oakland and Garrett, a white dad in Milwaukee) started writing each other letters about all this Pod Talk that was going around. We eventually published those letters in our newsletters (here and here) and were, well, taken aback by the immediate flood of responses: All of a sudden we heard from a lot of folks looking for validation on their decision to pod or not to pod, to try to place the choices they were considering squarely in a neat box of Racism or Anti-racism. A lil’ sampling:
There was, in many responses, a palpable sense of exhaustion and confusion and heartache. It was clear that, for so many, the weight of navigating so many imperfect choices, of holding up their families’ levies with their hands, only for the flood water to keep crashing in, was all just too damn much.
Let’s get this out there right off the bat: We aren’t going to hand down any opinions about whether your pod is good or bad. We can barely remember if our kids ate breakfast this morning or not (answer: maybe? But how did they even get their hands on gummy worms?). We know that, in particular when it comes to base levels of coordinating survival-level child care right now, we all are doing the best we can.
What we are going to offer, because we have a sense that we all need it big time, is a few clarifying questions to hold while you have those late night, bleary eyed conversations with your partner or sit around trying to hear your neighbors through your masks while hoping your kids don’t lick one another.
Think of it as harm reduction for pandemic times. As binary as the moment might feel--to pod or not to pod, to hire a private teacher or not to hire a private teacher?--let’s try to see this moment, instead, as one of constraints and creative possibilities. Those possibilities exist on a spectrum. It doesn’t just matter whether you pod or not, whether you hire a private teacher or not; it matters how you do those things, who is involved, where the money comes from and how it flows, where it takes place, who feels heard, how all of this interacts with your school community, neighborhood, and city.
Overwhelmed already? Yes, this is overwhelming. And it is easy, when hit with the overwhelm to say, But it shouldn’t be this way. We should have real leadership from the POTUS on down to the superintendent who has accurate information, and is looking ahead, and making informed decisions, and communicating clearly with equity at the center. This isn’t an individual white or privileged person’s problem to solve. This is a collective, societal problem.
Damn skippy. You’re right. We’re mad as hell, too.
But here we are. And we have to hold the outrage over the absence of functional, moral leadership next to the truth about our own power. Even if we, as white people, find ourselves absolutely indigent at racist systems, let us not forget that they were (a) built for us and (b) are sustained by the choices we make, even the justifiable ones, even the innocuous ones.
What does our leadership, as parents in our own families, as neighbors, as school community members, look like? How can we model, in our own little way, what we wish were happening on a larger level? The buck has been passed like a hot fucking potato since this shit started (we mean, the virus, but really, America) and it’s landed at our feet in one small, important way. Let’s make it stop. Or at least slow it down.
We have no idea what we’re doing either, but here are some questions we think might be worth asking ourselves (and our friends that we are discussing creating solutions with for the fall)...
1) Have you given yourself space to feel exhausted and grieve so much that has been lost (this On Being episode is great for getting in touch with this), but also right-sized that feeling? So, for example, I, Courtney, can own that I’m depleted and in major need of solitude. I’m worried about meeting my book deadline, really miss my parents and I’m worried about them for a variety of reasons. And I’m financially secure, have flexible, non-essential work, and, oh you know, haven’t dealt with generations of educational inequity and structural racism. That stuff would make me bone tired.
If I hold them both at once, I feel more capable of being resilient enough to slow down as I’m figuring all of this out to make a decision that’s not just possible for my family, but reduces harm. [Garrett note- I cosign everything Courtney said except the part about meeting her book deadline. Not to brag, but I haven’t been worried about Courtney missing her book deadline].
2) Are you giving yourself (and your family) permission to do less right now? One of the biggest reasons that pods have (rightfully) inspired a visceral reaction from people concerned about equity is the impression that, in this moment when so many are literally just trying to hang on, that there are privileged parents trying to maximize every aspect of this moment for their kids’ advantage. If you’ve been tempted to do this, to make sure that your kid gets the most out of fourth grade this year, instead of shaming yourself, it may be worth asking, “Why do I have that instinct?”
You and your family have never lived through a pandemic before. Ask yourself: Given how unprecedented everything is, why am I desperate for my kid to still get as much out of the school year as possible? What would it look like to give yourself and your family permission not to race to the head of the class, but to simply live this year?
This, for example, is my kid’s actual room. A few red checks short of tidy. Oh well.
3) Who are you in relationship with already that you could check in with about this moment--not to create a pod, but to understand their thoughts, feelings, and needs? BIPOC parents, or parents of kids with disabilities, at school? Neighbors who might need extra support or those who don’t have the bandwidth to be plotting right now because they’re just trying to make it through the day? One Integrated Schools chapter leader had a great way of putting this one: “Have you started with the most vulnerable, not the most inconvenienced?” (Their blog post on this is great, btw.) Not all conversions have to be strategic right now; some could be about building your own awareness and bonds with people. Maybe your school could use some support creating a space like this--again, not to plot necessarily, but just to listen.
4) Is there a more collectivist way to do this? Could the school, as a whole, take on the creation of mutual aid crews based on a bunch of different factors? Maybe that’s too much (administrators and teachers are overwhelmed, too!). Could the PTA, if you’ve got one, create some space to think this through? Could your school site council? Is there an Integrated Schools chapter in your local area that could help you think through some of the implications?
5) There are short-term demands on all of us, no doubt, but how can we also hold the long-term implications of all of this in mind? Is there someone in the pod crew who can be in charge of keeping track of the long-term conversations and keep the rest of the parents informed so you can pivot, contribute money where it’s needed, or share what you’re learning in a way that might support others? The mental labor of getting through the day as a caregiver (sometimes in multiple directions), worker, friend etc., had many of us shirking on our responsibilities as a citizen. It’s easier to shoulder it when you’ve got a committed crew with shared values.
6) With that in mind, what is the world that you’re truly hoping to build? The fact that we’ve all been asked, individually, to hold the frayed edges of our families’ lives together, is tragic for so many reasons. One of the biggest ones, though, is that it can keep us from imagining what we truly want to build towards. Do you dream of a fully equitable, diverse school system where every school has the resources it needs to truly love on all its students? Whatever you do right now, asking yourself the question, “How is this helping build towards that world?” isn’t a threat. It’s an opportunity to navigate even the shitty, imperfect choices of this moment with a little more imagination and a little more courage.
Seventh question is…yours. Please add the question you think we should all be asking ourselves right now in comments!
What conservations can you have with your kids about your family's choices that help them share in your vision of honoring the essentials of their life (safety, health, play) while holding off on the non essential extras? I.E. "I know you will have more time soon for friends, math, camp, but are them some ways we could bring more joy into our little life for you??" Though I did make a recent pledge to talk LESS to my kids ;)
Can you see this as a moment to divest yourself from “the best” and redistribute your labor toward finding what’s inherently GOOD for yourself, your kids, and your community? One of my nonspeaking autistic friends wrote that we will not get back to normal. We will only get back to natural. Can this be a moment for us cultivate natural ways of mutual flourishing?