That wasn’t on my 2020 bingo card, goes the popular internet expression. It’s used to describe improbable events – murder hornets, Dolly Parton funding a plague vaccine, fire tornadoes – in a year filled with them. And not on my personal 2020 bingo card was what I found myself doing on a recent Tuesday night, which was asking three perfect strangers on a teleconference call how, exactly, they got their groceries.
When you are responsible for a two-year-old, you see, you are also responsible for their social calendar. This is inevitably more exciting than your own, which most evenings consists of “try to watch another episode of The Crown without falling asleep”. In the midst of an unchecked pandemic, though, a gregarious toddler must find new ways to interact with his or her peers. (Social distancing is not a child’s forte.) Enter the playgroup pod, a group of anxious parents who agree to share their most intimate details with one another so that their children may safely play together inside as the weather turns inhospitable.
Hence the groceries question, and along with it: who exactly do you live with? Is family nearby? How often do you see them? And what exactly does a consultant do? Friendship is always the result of a mysterious alchemy between two individuals; all the more so, when those individuals are not yet capable of conversation and mostly want to squeal and run in very small, excited circles. Still, my toddler gravitated towards certain kids on the playground, and those kids had parents with whom I had to undertake a crash course in risk, reward, and armchair epidemiology.
Because the US federal government is mostly consumed these days with disputing election results in the courts and pouting “NO FAIR!” on social media – a lawsuit is a tweet with a filing fee, I’ve heard it said – it’s up to individual Americans to make their own rules to prevent the spread of coronavirus. As a result, all over the country, people are having awkward conversations of the kind I had with my would-be “pod”.