In search of another large, cautious Pittsburgh-area family to join our ‘quarantine pod’

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Cristie Bloom with her husband, Chris Gabuzda, and their four children ( Lillian, 9; Miles, 8; Eleanor, 6; Elias, 4). (Courtesy photo)

Cristie Bloom with her husband, Chris Gabuzda, and their four children ( Lillian, 9; Miles, 8; Eleanor, 6; Elias, 4). (Courtesy photo)

The world as we know it changed when COVID-19 surfaced and brought with it new ideas about what it means to be safe. I trust in science and appreciate the need to minimize risk, but maximizing the opportunity for my family's happiness is also important. 

As we move forward into this new world where social distancing, masks and the constant smell of sanitizer are expected to continue without an end in sight, the future looks brighter with the thought of friends by our side. 

So, one night, in the middle of our latest Netflix binge, I asked my husband how he would feel about finding another family to quarantine with us. He stared at me blankly and laughed. "How would that even work? How would we know that another family would follow the same precautions that we're taking? How could adding more people to our loud and chaotic house be a good idea?" 

I've always loved him for his skepticism. And, to be honest, I'm not sure. But could it really be worse than this current reality? 

While the privilege of being able to stay safely at home isn't lost on me, sheltering in place while crisis-schooling four children younger than 10 hasn't been easy. This pandemic has turned our sense of security and normalcy on its head overnight. I feel like I'm constantly moving between feeding people, homeschooling, feeding people, mitigating meltdowns, feeding people.

There are most certainly beautiful moments between the noise and lack of personal space, but so much of my energy in quarantine has been spent treading water. 

Just as we've worked our way toward a manageable daily rhythm, summer looms around the corner. Regular connections with teachers and friends found through digital learning will end in a few weeks. I fear that those missed interactions will leave my children with a void almost as large as the hole they feel when they remember the public pool is closed this season.

It feels even more difficult to process a future without any regular, outside human interaction if I look beyond the summer months. Simply put, sheltering in place with only my immediate family doesn't feel sustainable in the long run. 

Desperately craving solidarity, support and connection, I knew we needed to take some risk. Extending our idea of what quarantine means to include another large family like our own is the only way I can imagine moving forward into this "new normal" comfortably.

After extensive discussion, my husband has come around to my proposal under the pretense that we are strict and selective in choosing the "right" family.

With unsettling statistics unfurling around us, staying safe and keeping others safe continues to be of the utmost importance. I am an immunocompromised mother of four small children. We've chosen to carefully adhere to social distancing guidelines as a family.

Most of our days are spent at home and my husband has alternated between working remotely from our attic bedroom and following stringent guidelines when on site  at a large-scale construction company, where he manages projects. Our groceries are sanitized and shelf-stable goods are quarantined for days before we bring them into the kitchen. If we are feeling brave (or desperate) enough to venture into the outside world, our shoes and clothes are removed outside and we immediately hit the shower. We would only feel comfortable extending our quarantine circle to another family following the same precautions.

So, in true millennial fashion, I posted an “ISO” (in search of) on social media. 

Quarantine Family Extension

Applications are now being accepted to extend our family! If you've been looking for a family to coparent with during these unprecedented times and don't mind the chaos, noise and extreme amounts of touching that happen when my children are feeling out of sorts, we'd love to consider expanding our family to include yours.

Requirements:

Social distancing and extreme caution must be exercised when outside of our family unit - if you're not sanitizing your groceries, we are not the right family for you!

Must have a gaggle of children ranging in age from 3-11.

Hikes. Please like hiking/be open to hiking with us.

Be gentle parents with an understanding of neurodiverse needs.

Tolerate my swearing problem that has subsequently been passed on to my children. (Sorry.)

To make joint meal prep possible, vegan families with celiac disease preferred, but not required. Alternatively, prepare to wash all of the dishes and I will do all of the cooking.

While we're fortunate to have wonderful, dearly loved friends, finding one family that would be a fit for all of us is proving to be tricky. 

Ideally, our expanded quarantine family would consist of another dual-parent household with four children. We hope that each member of our family would have the opportunity to quarantine with a similarly aged "buddy" with parallel interests and values. It's pivotal that the adults share like-minded parenting styles to ensure that we seamlessly support one another in the days ahead. 

By “doubling our bubble,” as it’s been called in some Canadian provinces, our children could have a set of playmates outside of each other. We could meet up for hikes or take our kids to ride bikes together. We'd be able to laugh with our peers in real time, without the hassles caused by taxed internet connections. 

The family celebrated Mother’s Day in quarantine with a cake. (Courtesy)

The family celebrated Mother’s Day in quarantine with a cake. (Courtesy)

We could share the burden of providing the seven square meals a day that our children seem to require in the age of the coronavirus. 

An ever-present adult might even be available for all of the things children seem to need when one of us tries to use the bathroom by ourselves. Assuming that both of our families are honest, open and committed to maintaining the same level of perceived risk of exposure when we're apart, inviting another family to quarantine with us sounds optimal.

About two weeks after our initial plea, an Allegheny County public health official suggested “pods” as a great idea to thrive during the pandemic. 

The funny thing, we realized, is that the decision of how much to expand your bubble is so fraught with social tension. While some may judge us for even inquiring (especially during the stay-at-home orders), others have been quietly seeing friends and family all along. Our extreme caution doesn’t make sense to some, but they aren’t living with autoimmune disease trying to survive a worldwide pandemic. 

And we need help to do it. 

Even as Allegheny County moves to the “green” phase on June 5, our family by necessity needs to continue as if we are still in “red.” Unfortunately, due to our health issues, nothing will change for us.  

If it takes a village to raise a child, it seems unreasonable to expect that we endure quarantine alone for the foreseeable future. Extending our family circle to include one like-minded group of peers feels like a reasonable way to enhance our lives while maintaining minimal risk. Assuming that we find a family who holds the same set of standards as us, the benefits of this arrangement could safely bring much needed joy to this traumatic time. 

Is the right addition to our family out there?

Cristie Bloom lives with her family in Dormont. She documents her day-to-day on her Instagram account, @GrowingupGabuzda, and can be reached by emailing cristie.bloom@gmail.com.

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