Latchkey Kid



Roughhousing on the playground, someone pulled at the rawhide cord around my neck and the knot came loose. The key clattered onto the asphalt four-square court just next to the tether-ball pole. “Hey Frankenstein, why you got a key around your neck?” A tomboy named Karen was squinting at me.

“I use it to get into my house, in case my parents aren’t home.” In truth, my mom and step-dad were rarely home when I got off work, but she didn’t need to know that.

“Are you a latch-key kid?” She sneered.

“No.” But wait, was I? What did that mean?

“My mom says that latch-key kids need to be taken away from their parents. She says if you don’t care enough about your kid to be home when they get there, you shouldn’t be a parent.”

“Well, your mom’s a nim-noing foo-foo.”  Nim-noing foo-foo was something that my oddball friends had come up with because we didn’t want to get caught saying bad words, and the recess teacher seemed to have bionic ears. We’d decided it was a worthwhile pursuit to come up with nonsense insults so that we could use them freely without fear of detention.

“She’s a what? You take that back, Archer!”

“Won’t. Nim. Noing. Foo-fooo.” I gave her a raspberry for good measure and walked away from the group with tears welling up in my third grade eyes. Latchkey kid sounded exactly the right word for what I was. I was a kid who came home every day and used the skeleton key around my neck to get into the house. I called my mom at work first thing when I got there so she knew I was home, but for the next 2 hours I would be on my own, to read, watch TV, dig holes in the back yard, or bring my pet turtle out for a walk. I wasn’t in any danger. We had a big dog, and I had instructions to never answer the door or talk to anybody. But I remember being scared of things.

Back then, sometimes you’d make a call and maybe you dialed the number wrong, or maybe it was disconnected, but in any case you’d get three high pitched tones, and a recorded deep baritone voice saying, “The number you have dialed cannot be connected. Please check the number and try again” Upon hearing those words, I immediately pictured a dead man in a tattered suit suddenly appearing behind me waiting to eat my brains. He never said anything except ““The number you have dialed…” but I knew deep down that he meant to devour my soul. Stuff like that. I had a wicked imagination, and it worked against me more often than not. Any knock on the door became the SWAT team mistaking our house for a criminal’s and I was going to jail for not answering the door. I worried a lot. What if they don’t come home? What if there’s an accident and nobody thinks to call me? I’ll just be sitting here watching Transformers and never know my family is dead. Will I have to become the Batman?

Karen was right. I was a latchkey kid. I couldn’t have friends over after school because my folks worried about somebody falling and cracking open a skull while they were at work. That was a downside. And I remember seeing those downsides. But I also remember the ups. I had at least two hours every day where I could pretend, and build, and create. I found a pocket-knife that I never told anybody about, and I set about to carving figurines out of sticks in the yard. I made igloos in the twilight of a winter afternoon, and ambushed my mom as she came home from work.

I sometimes wonder if I would have been more outgoing if I had been able to see my friends more after school, but I also know that the silence and solitude has allowed me to enjoy silence and solitude. Some people can’t be alone, or sit in a quiet room without the TV and the radio blasting to drown out their thoughts.

If you always had adult supervision, I suggest trying it now. So what if you’re technically no longer a kid. Open the door to your home, and spend some time exploring it as a kid would, home alone. Find a cubby under the stairs to read in. Go to the back yard and dig a hole, then fill it with a time-capsule. If you have kids, pretend they’re friends that you’re not supposed to have over (I did that too. Bad Sean) and play a game of carpet-lava/pillow-stones. Play stick-ball by yourself against the garage, and then pretend you’re a ninja until your spouse comes home and pelt them with folded paper throwing stars.

Be a latch-key dad/mom. Just for an hour or so.


(photo credit: Nanette Turner)

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