How Our Return to School Reminds Me of a Jewish Folk Tale

2020 and 2021 have been historic years. From lockdown restrictions to career changes and the intense personal trauma and grief so many people have faced, I’m more than happy to put this period behind us.

But there have been lots of lessons learned amidst the challenges and I was recently struck by a parallel I noticed with the story arc from one of our favourite children’s books.


All winter we shuffled along; schools and churches and businesses were open, but everything felt harder and less spontaneous. I complained more than I’d care to admit. I missed my family. I was tired of sending my kids to after-school lessons and clubs in masks. I wanted this “new normal” to be abnormal again. And then came May. Variant cases skyrocketed in our province; with positive tests rising each day, we entered a month-long lockdown. Schools were closed, non-essential businesses shuttered and travel was heavily restricted.

I wasn’t prepared for how hard this second lockdown felt. Masks are familiar and not being able to visit family when we want to feels sadly routine. But something felt different this time; having friends and family living in regions with re-opening strategies (my sister sent pictures from Disney when we were slogging through another round of Math via Google Meet), all felt extra discouraging and isolating.

And then the glorious news that a combination of high vaccination rates, along with the success of our lockdown measures at curbing the spread of COVID, was paving the way for the re-opening of schools. All winter I grumbled about school lunches – the hassle and mess and time. I have never been so happy to pack a school lunchbox as I was June 2nd. Walking the kids to school for their first day back, I couldn’t shake the jubilant feeling that I was living out the major plot points of A Squash and a Squeeze

In A Squash and a Squeeze, the first book by duo Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, we follow the trials and tribulations of a grey-haired lady who bemoans the size of her house, which she calls “a squash and a squeeze.” She consults a wise rabbi-like man (this picture book is based on a traditional Jewish folk tale), who tells her to bring her farm animals into the home. She does just that, eventually welcoming a hen, goat, pig and other creatures that squawk and moo. You can imagine the scene – chaotic, loud, messy. Her already-small home shrinks before her eyes, but she continues undaunted, though acutely aware of the dwindling real estate: “It was teeny for four and it’s weeny for five.”

When the wise old man finally tells her to bring all the animals out again, that home she disliked – the one that felt like a “squash and a squeeze”- feels palatial.


A month of screen shares, Math worksheets, Playdoh creations, and constant snack requests was exhausting. But I’d been complaining of the pressures of juggling work and life pre-lockdown. How free my schedule feels now; how happy I am to pack lunches and look at homework folders and set a morning alarm. Life feels spacious and light when I compare it to our own “squash and a squeeze.”

It helps to remember that perspective can often change our reality. And inspiration for that perspective can come from the most unlikely of sources, including the children’s section of your local library.

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