One sure cure for the quarantine blues: A family pillow fight

Lara Bazelon

THE WASHINGTON POST – Here are the rules: No kicking, biting, scratching, punching or hair-pulling.

Here are the essentials: Yelling, screaming, tackling, wrestling and hitting – with a pillow.

Life has come to this for a single working mother in California with a fifth-grader and a third-grader to home-school as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.

Every afternoon, after my children have tried to learn at home – punctuated by long periods of screen time – and I have tried to teach my law students remotely – punctuated by long periods of scouring the internet for breaking news like a addict desperate for content – we meet in my bedroom.

The pillow fight lasts exactly 15 minutes. Letting loose on each other, we are able to express the frustration, fear, sadness and anger that seeped into our lives after we were ordered to stay at home March 16. We have, briefly, an outlet for pent-up energy that doesn’t involve the risk that comes with venturing outside and the laborious disinfecting process that follows when we return indoors: me nagging them to scrub their hands like surgeons and racing around wiping down doorknobs and light switches.

Sometimes we have a Top 40 soundtrack playing on Spotify, curated by my 10-year-old son: It’s called ‘P-Fight’.

Sometimes, it is just leaden silence, which we break by opening the windows and shouting at the top of our lungs. Occasionally, I worry someone will hear my children screaming and call the police. Then I remember that last week, my car window was smashed, my backpack was stolen, and the police refused to come to my house.

“Too risky,” they told me. “You could be infected. Come down to the station house to file a report.” “Too risky,” I told them, imagining a grimy building larded in deadly germs. (Anyway, it was just a backpack stuffed with sweaty running clothes and overpriced skin-care products. As my daughter said, thinking of the thieves, “Well, they were in for a nasty surprise.”)

No one is coming for us. And unless we attack one another within the confines of the Rules of the Pillow Fight, we may kill one another anyway.

Daily pillow fights are not without risk. Last week, my daughter cannonballed onto my face, and I thought briefly that my cheekbone might be broken. “Be careful,” I warned them. “If one of us gets hurt, there’s nothing I can do about it.” The hospitals are overrun death traps, and no doctor I know of is seeing patients.

(I learned this the hard way when I developed a cyst on my neck. Removing it involves elective surgery, and that isn’t possible anymore. So I just do the best I can to treat it at home.)

The rewards are too great to consider stopping the daily pillow fight.

Every day, I wake up smothered in dread. What if one of my parents gets sick? Or both of them? They are in their mid-70s. My ex-husband and I have had a conversation about what to do if it is one of us. A conversation, as it turns out, that was rather short. The children will be whisked away, the sick parent isolated and left to fend for themselves. “I don’t want the kids to see me like that,” he told me. I assured him they wouldn’t. Those are the rules, after all.

The coronavirus rules. You get sick and recover, or die – alone.

Throughout the long days, my mood shifts. At times, I think months of being entirely indoors, not seeing anyone but the three of them, is doable. I remind myself how lucky I am – we are. I have a salary, I have an “essential” job, I have tenure. My children are healthy, their father is healthy, I am healthy. So far.

I try to find the humour in things. Recently, my son returned from his father’s house with a full-blown mullet: business in the front, party in the back, shaved on the sides. Normally I would have been engulfed by rage. Instead, I laughed. When I worried about my ability to recruit students for my legal clinics in the fall, my daughter offered to help by recording an interview we could post on social media. She picked out our outfits and did our hair and makeup.

It was the first time I hadn’t worn yoga pants or pajamas in 10 days. With my son recording on his iPhone, she probed my psyche delicately, Barbara Walters-style, clasping her hands together, fake nails like sparkling talons on full display. We have a blooper reel where she breaks role and falls to the ground giggling uncontrollably. But after multiple takes, we put together something resembling a coherent pitch. The law school is actually going to use it.

Inevitably, the dread descends again, and with it the what-ifs and the self-pity and the certain knowledge that it will get worse before it gets better.

Recently, a rumour circulated that the governor was calling in the National Guard to make sure we stayed inside. No leaving without official permission. At the thought of my one daily outing – running in the park – snuffed out, I became frantic. As it turned out, it was just a rumour. For now.

And so we continue the pillow fights. They provide a scheduled break where we can break down. When the timer on my phone goes off, we’re done: sweaty, out of breath, exhilarated.

As my eight-year-old daughter said, “Pillow fights are the best thing ever.” For now, she’s right.