60: Confessions of a Latchkey Kid

60: Confessions of a Latchkey Kid

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

Confessions of a Latchkey Kid

Men are what their mothers made them.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was a latchkey kid, but I never knew it. I remember the first time I saw the term “latchkey kid” in a newspaper headline. The words conjured up an image of a tragic waif locked in a lonely hovel. Then I started reading the story. It was about kids who had working parents and who came home from school, let themselves in, and sometimes had to make their own dinner.

It occurred to me then that somewhere a sociologist was probably writing a book about this terrible waste of human potential—a book explaining how latchkeyism is a contributing factor in juvenile delinquency, alcoholism and the nuclear arms race and telling parents that allowing their children to return from school to an empty home is somehow immoral.

But back when my younger brother, David, and I came home from school to an empty house, while our mother was out making money to feed and clothe us, we never realized we were being abused. I think we actually enjoyed it.

When I was nine or ten years old, I remember coming home, letting myself in with my own key, plunking down on the couch and doing exactly what every other kid my age was doing—sitting like a vegetable and watching cartoons until my mom came home and screamed that it was time for dinner.

Once in a while my brother and I would cook dinner—not frequently, mind you, since that would have meant missing Spider-Man—but once in a while.

Yes, I confess, the absence of a parental presence in our home forced my brother and me to learn how to cook. As a result of this inhumane treatment, we’re both completely at ease in the kitchen and my brother still makes one of the best lasagnas I’ve ever had. As scary as this sounds, we even learned how to do our homework without being nagged.

One of the reasons latchkeyism is considered such a crisis today is because there are maniacs out there. The assumption most people seem to make is that there were never any crazy people out there before. But there were and—this is the terrible part, so if you’re easily frightened you may want to skip this—my mother knew it.

Do you know how I know she knew? Because she told us. “Don’t open the door for strangers,” she said. And we didn’t. If anyone we didn’t recognize came to our house, we’d leave the chain on, open the door a crack and tell the person to come back later.

She also told us that if we were ever frightened for any reason we should call someone immediately. There was a list of numbers by the phone almost as long as the Yellow Pages—the police, the fire department, the hospital, friends, relatives and, of course, our mom’s office.

So do you know what we did when we were frightened? We called someone.

I remember one evening when I was about thirteen or fourteen and old enough to babysit. My brother and I heard some noises outside, so we phoned a family friend and he came over and checked it out. It turned out to be some kid from the neighbourhood throwing rocks at the windows. But it could just as easily have been one of those dangerous strangers and we were reassured that we had someone who would come right over when we called.

Yes, I was a latchkey kid and so was my brother. Both of us survived our latchkey years and—you’ll have to take my word for this—I think we’ve both grown up to be fairly responsible adults because we learned to look after ourselves at a fairly early age. So I guess I just have one thing left to say about my tortured life as a latchkey kid.

Thanks, Mom.

~Mark Leiren-Young

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