Sunday, May 10, 2009

Latchkey Kids

What is a latchkey kid? Here's a photo of one:

She looks like a normal girl, maybe a little thin, but normal. She's smiling. It appears she lives in a nice neighborhood. What makes her different?
What is a latchkey and, more importantly, how did this noun become an adjective?

These are good questions. I had to look up latchkey myself. It is a noun. It means: a key for unfastening the latch on a door from the inside or the outside.

It turned into an adjective in the 1940's. As an adjective it describes: a child or children who come home after school to an empty house lacking in parental supervision due to working parents or parent.

So the adjective does not describe a child who is left alone at home. It describes a child who arrives home alone--thus needing a latchkey to get inside the house.

I find the distinction interesting. If your parents leave you at home to go the store and come back--you are not a latchkey kid (technically).

Anyway--WWII, which brought the rise of the suburbs, women's rights, baby booms etc., also brought along the new term "latchkey kid". With one parent off at war and one at work--kids came home to empty houses. Thus turning this lackluster noun into an especially descriptive and interesting adjective.

Divorce added to the latchkey syndrome.

Jennifer's mother tried to avoid this scenario with her children. She had Jen and Dan take a bus to an after school daycare. Jen and Dan went faithfully and without complaint. They had never been to a daycare before. They didn't realize when they were mistreated. They thought it was normal for daycare kids to be locked in the backyard, to eat their snack in the yard and to pee in the yard. Jennifer and all the other kids accepted the treatment without question.
Of course, the daycare lady's own kids were allowed inside. They belonged to her. Jennifer remembers watching the lady feed her kids sandwiches and milk from the window. She wished she could go inside, but she was just a daycare kid. She stayed outside with the dog.

Well, one day Jennifer got sick. She threw up on the bus. When she got to the daycare, the lady put her outside and wouldn't let her in. Jennifer could hold her pee at the daycare, but she couldn't hold her vomit. She begged the lady to let her use the bathroom. Finally, the lady let her in her house. She had white carpet. Jennifer did not make it to the bathroom.
The lady was angry. She complained to Jennifer's mom. The whole story came out and her mom was furious. That was the last daycare Jen and Dan ever attended!

So they became latchkey children. They walked home from Centennial Elementary in Littleton, Colorado every day--a half-mile walk. They lived in a good neighborhood. Jennifer was eight and Daniel was eleven years old. Jennifer remembers one scary event. She wrote about in her diary. She writes about a dark, rainy night--but it was probably just early evening time.

May 2, 1979

Dear Diary,

"One dark, rainy night, me and my brother were in the house alone. We heard a car coming. We thought it was my mother but it wasn't. It pulled up the driveway. Then I heard something trying to open the door, then he left."

Jennifer does remember this experience. She remembers feeling curious, then fearful, then helpless, then insecure. She never worried about being home alone--but she realized most that they were alone when a stranger was near. She crouched down and did not make a sound until the car was gone.

It was probably just the wrong house, or a curious neighbor--who knows? She did not see who it was. She thinks she wrote "he left" because men are usually the "bad guys".

There were also lots of good times. Jen and Dan spent the summer alone at their dad's apartment and later, at his Spinnaker Street house. They had no friends in California, there were no kids living at the apartment complex. In fact, Foster City was in a phase of having mostly elderly residents. There were few kids anywhere. It seemed like a dead city to Jen and Dan. A city without children. Jen and Dan had the place to themselves!!

They arrived each summer with only the toys that fit in their suitcase. They slept on a hide-a-bed in the one-bedroom apartment. They made all their meals except dinner. They giggled through many an earthquake. They sometimes spent hours watching cartoon after cartoon--they were 8 and 11 when this started. They did not complain. They got creative.
They roller skated all over the complex. They took long sheets of computer paper and made murals for the walls. They took all their dad's little gadgets and pretended they were spy gear. It was 1979--there were few TV channels, no computers, no home video games, no ipods, no MTV. Their dad didn't allow sugar or food like potato chips--so they couldn't even eat away their boredom. They made the best of it, they relied on each other and they developed powerful imaginations.

Jennifer as her Dad! And Daniel wearing his hip new, tennis shoe roller skates! Their dad was always the first in line to get the latest technology (its the Vulcan in him!)

If you have kids and they tell you they are bored--Jennifer's advice--ignore them! Let them figure it out. She was raised in a vacuum--a sensory deprivation tank in Foster City, California. She was able to turn a tire gage into spy gear, roller skates into a high speed car chase, plain oatmeal into oats to feed her "horse", dad's work clothes into a dress-up game, computer paper into a seascape teaming with life, a tennis court into a high-security headquarters and a brother into a best friend. The latter being a gift that has lasted a life time.

Jennifer and her brother in a roller skating crash
Roller skates were invented in 1759 by Joseph Merlin
(ice skates have been discovered dating back as early as 3000 B.C.)

If you were home alone--what did you do to pass the time?

Popular TV Shows of 1979
60 Minutes
Three's Company
That's Incredible
Dukes of Hazzard
One Day at a Time
and one of Jennifer's favorites:
Buck Rogers

1 comment:

  1. I was NEVER home alone. I'm the oldest of eight kids! HAHAH I don't remember my mom being around much. I think that as soon as I got home she took off to do errands without having a bunch of little ones to haul around with her. As a mother, I understand this now. We rely on our oldest kids to babysit so we can be more efficient...sigh.


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