Here we are in the waning weeks of a most unusual summer. So much uncertainty about so many things in our lives we used to take for granted. At the top of the list is whether or not schools will open and if so, how? Hybrid is the newest addition to our COVID lexicon when speaking of possible formats for our children’s education. Have we plateaued or are we still on the upward curve of infection? Is this currently the first wave or are we experiencing a high tide moment that will ebb and allow us to take a deep breath until the fall? And when will that life-saving vaccine be available so we can finally put this epidemic on the shelf?
No one really has the answers, but the conversations are important and we all need a safe, non-judgmental, loving space to air our concerns and to validate that our feelings are worthy and to get strength from one another. We have such a space in our weekly Gan Katan class that has sort of morphed into a support system for parents who are traversing this new normal road together. The class was always heavily weighted with the needs of the grownups who attended with their infants and toddlers and less on the kids. Gal, the facilitator of the program, and I would spend many an hour planning each session with themes and art and stories and songs and Jewish learning with a little Hebrew thrown in and after each class we would laugh because the flow of the class was really determined by the attendees and what they needed on that particular morning. When we met in person twice each month the hot topics included baby’s milestones, sleeping habits, allergies, in-laws, pre-schools and the like and our opening circle gave everyone a chance to weigh in, tell us how their week went and share a good thing. In the meantime, the children were toddling off or crawling on the climbing equipment or zooming around on the riding toys. The class, ultimately, was for the grownups.
Many Fridays, we never got to our theme and the art project remained untouched, but we always celebrated Shabbat beginning with Penny in the Pushke and ending with a motzi over a fresh chale. And our mini oneg was always a gastronomical hit. Friendships were forged, play dates abounded, birthdays celebrated, new babies were welcomed, and relationships flourished. And now, in the age of COVID, Gan Katan has taken on a new role. We meet weekly on Zoom and we still do Shabbat and our opening circle but then we pretty much lose the kids. I used to feel badly about that but now I don’t. We are serving a new purpose. Screens and infants and toddlers are not compatible. We get it. So even though we talk about Gan Katan as a safe, nurturing class for Jewish infants and toddlers and their grown-ups, we know by its very nature Gan Katan is really for the adults. The adults who need a place to meet up with other like-minded people who happen to have kids the same ages as theirs. It is a space that welcomes dialogue and wraps the participants in a comforting quilt of caring all the while listening and reacting when the time is right. Gal and I still plan. We pick a book to read, we pick songs to sing, we pick trendy topics to discuss, but we always go with the flow. A comment or observation or a feeling can take us on a new road or down a more relevant path and we are ok with that. We are ok with the fact that our moms and dads feel comfortable enough to speak their minds, to share their problems, to offer their support, and to show their affection for one another.
Don’t get me wrong, we still have fun. The past two months we have had the unique opportunity to experience the transformation of Gal’s backyard into a haven for chickens, ducks and bunnies. Gal and her husband purchased chicken eggs. They turned a bathroom into an incubator. They built a chicken coop. The chicks hatched during our class and we watched them grow into semi-adults. The second batch of chicken eggs turned out to be ducks and we watched them waddle into adulthood too. We know their names, what they like to eat, and we get to see how they interact with their human family. We visit them each Friday.
So, Gan Katan, our little garden, is flourishing in these most uncertain times. I am very certain that we are bringing some joy and comfort into the lives of our families. I look forward to these weekly sessions because they bring me joy and comfort too. There is still room for more of you so do not hesitate to join in. We will be on hiatus for the month of August and will resume on Friday, September11.
Debby Singer is the Jewish Federation’s PJ Library and PJ Our Way Program Coordinator and a contributing writer to Jlife magazine.