Every morning, I wake at sunrise, walk the beach barefoot, my feet slapping against the wet sand and sloshing in the wave foam.

I design my own clothes and change my hair color at lunchtime, just because I can.

I tend to my growing orchard of pear, peach and coconut trees and then go fishing at dusk, when the sky goes rosy and the sea bass — so many sea bass — are biting.

I do all this from my couch, or the kitchen, or anywhere I can get a moment to escape to my perfect world and away from the relentless realities of a pandemic.

Knock, knock, knock. “Mom?” my 15-year-old says through the door. “Are you locked in the bathroom playing ‘Animal Crossing’?”

“No, of course not,” I snap, with as much indignation as I can muster on the can.

“Mom, it says that you’re online.”


I am living this parallel fantasy life on my son’s Nintendo Switch, which I have hereby commandeered for the rest of the coronavirus crisis because I am deeply, hopelessly addicted to the video-game equivalent of “Tiger King.”

“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is basically Fortnite for moms. Maybe it’s a huge insult, and I know, serious gamers love the newest Nintendo game, too.

“Animal Crossing” is a build-your-own fantasy world on a beautiful island where you use natural resources to build, sell and buy your way to your ideal life. Every once in a while, a tantruming seagull asks you to find the parts of his broken phone, but otherwise, it’s a world where no one asks you for anything.

The only blood-pumping moments (I know, make your jokes) are when you have to scramble your net to catch a butterfly or pull your line at the right moment to hook the striking fish.

In what other world can I fly to an island for lunch, craft a perfect table and pay off my mortgage in three days (I know, pros, laugh because you did it in an hour. I’m still trying to stop spaz-jumping when I hit the wrong buttons, m-kay?)

I put some money in the bank, worked for an hour (or two, or three, but shhh) gathering conchs and coral on the beach, harvesting the fruits of my orchard and fishing on a meandering creek, and began a home expansion. The construction was done overnight!

It’s real life the way you’d want it to go.

Wait. That’s how my kids described “Fortnite” to me.

This column — a break from some of the truly devastating news we’re digesting daily in the covid-19 era — is a mea culpa to my sons for the one I wrote about them almost two years ago during the Summer of Pale, when “Fortnite Battle Royale” stole all the children’s brains, and we were apoplectic.

And now our roles are reversed, and they’re hunting me down in the bathroom, pulling up my hour count on the game, reminding me that real life is outside a screen.


Who got me hooked? My 15-year-old son.

He began his campaign early, as the game was poised to be released, and we were facing the fact that our long-planned, mother-son trip for spring break would be canceled by the coronavirus.

“Mom, if you buy it for both of us, we can play together,” he said. “You said you’re going to be the kind of mom who tries to understand our activities. And this will be a little like going on vacation together.”

I am a dabbler in free phone games, from “Candy Crush” to “Two Dots” or “Wooly Blast,” but I refuse to spend money on gaming and only play in those moments I need to calm myself — in line, on hold, when my mind is racing and I need to settle down at night.

“But it’s expensive,” I told him.

“Yeah, but we’re not spending any money on spring break, and you’ve never experienced the craftsmanship and detail of a really well-made game,” he argued.

I rolled my eyes at him and explained I’m fine with the free stuff online.

“Mom,” he said, in a perfect mom-voice. “You’re being a hypocrite. Don’t you always say quality journalism isn’t free and online subscribers are important to The Washington Post?”

Checkmate, son. Where do I sign up?

He gave me his little portable Nintendo, and we sat next to each other as we loaded the game together. We marveled at the detail in the graphics, the way the game syncs to your time zone and the late afternoons have the same beautiful golden light of a perfect spring afternoon here.

Two days later, after my children found me locked in my closet, we compared notes on our “Animal Crossing” worlds.

My son had an awesome house with mahogany flooring, brick walls and custom art on the walls he had designed, a cool wardrobe of custom hoodies and a hipster hairstyle.

I felt dumb when I showed him I was wearing an “ancient robe with belt,” a sombrero and a pair of recycled rubber boots I had fished out of the waters. My house was a mess, with a thrift- store vibe of rattan and velvet stools, and I was sleeping on a haybed. In my living room.

“Eww, Mom,” he wrinkled his nose at the state of my room.

“But let me show you what else I’ve done on the island!” I said.

And I showed him the tulips and hyacinths I had planted in front of all my neighbors’ homes, the orchard of exotic fruits I brought from other islands, and my pride — a gorgeous museum, filled with fossils, bugs and exotic fish.

His mouth dropped, and his eyes bugged out.

“How? What? But . . . how???? How did you get all that, Mom?!”

“Well, I put my energy into the community and not myself and my possessions,” I told him, without a hint of sanctimony.

He rolled his eyes.

“I think it’s time for you to take a break from your digital world and come interact with your family, Mom,” he said. “Let’s play cards.”

“Just gimme five more minutes,” I told him.

Twitter: @petulad

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