Pillow Fighting (in Poland)

The eight and nine year old boys were throwing pillows hard and furious. The girls had taken a little longer, but were joining in with gusto. A two-year-old was watching in awe and interest. Her mother provided her with a little pillow and she gave it a little throw. The adult who was hit fell back in a gratifying response. She smiled and threw again. Again she hit her mark. Her face lit up and she threw and threw again. Another great pillow fight was under way.

This happened to be a group of parents, children and people who work with children at a workshop in a tiny little village in northern Poland where I was privileged to visit last month. I couldn't understand much of what was being said, but the pillow language was clear enough. "What fun to attack the adults!" "Ooooh, I got him!" "You got me, but I'm so big and tough that it won't stop me." "Here comes a really big one!" "Watch out!" Occasionally people would rush at each other with their pillows and end up in a tumbling laughing heap on the floor.

What is it about pillow fights that make them so attractive to so many people? For one thing, it's very hard to get hurt or to inflict real damage. You can put your whole heart into a throw, aim it directly at somebody and not worry about the result. When you are being threatened with a huge pillow and a roar of attack, you know there is no real danger. Somehow the context of a fight, without any of its hard-edged angry substance, just makes us laugh.

Add in the element of children fighting with adults and there are even more possibilities. The children get to attack the adults, with no worries about consequences on either side--a rare occurrence. The adults get to play hard with the children (taking into account, of course, as did the mother of the two-year-old, what the children can handle). Another rarity. And if the adults can reel and yelp when hit in the solar plexus, instead of stoically taking it, the children get even more chance to glory in their power. In this fight that's not a fight, where you can attack and be attacked without fear, where grown-ups are playing and children can get the best of them, everything is turned on its head--and we laugh and laugh.

I don't know of any child who couldn't use more pillow fights. (Or any adult, for that matter.) They're a great way to relieve tension, dissolve anger into laughter, use up excess energy, let off steam, be in contact with other people. Some parents I know talk about nightly pillow fights with their families. I'm often done with putting out for the children at that point, and focused exclusively on quiet, order and rest. But, when I can remember, a rousing pillow fight is a great way to end the day. Although some people worry that that kind of activity just keys children up more, it’s my experience that after lots of contact and laughter (and sometimes tears), they always sleep better.

We had a great time that morning in Poland. Some of the parents were slow to join in, but the fun was infectious. The air was thick with flying pillows and laughter rang around the room. I couldn't help but be aware of how human beings are human beings no matter where you find them. The parents' love for their children, and willingness to stretch in their direction, was obvious, reassuring and hopeful. And that little two-year-old kept coming into her own.