Latchkey Kids


I had a moment of recollection the other day that brought me face to face with my eight-year-old self.

When Laura and I were both enrolled in full-day school, but were still too young to take care of ourselves after school let out, my parents enrolled us in a latchkey program. We had to stay after school until my parents were able to pick us up on their way home from work.

I despised it.

The lady who ran it (what was here name? Miss Lisa? Miss Stacy?  Miss Cindy? I can’t recall) was a ruthless bipolar she-wolf…at least in my eight-year-old eyes. She had long stringy dark hair, and small, angry dark eyes. She had a nervous energy, and seemed to constantly be moving, tugging, playing with her hands. For some reason, I hated her. I can’t recall exactly why. Something about her put me on edge, and I remember being afraid but also angry by the way I thought she treated me.

In retrospect, it seems ridiculous to have hated this program and the woman who ran it. I’m pretty sure we just spent a couple of hours after school in the gym, playing games, doing homework, and making arts and crafts. She probably wasn’t that bad, either. Perhaps she was just slightly irritated after dealing with whiny kids by the time we all left. My imagination, however, took her countenance and exaggerated every expression and word she uttered to illustrate her as a vile storm cloud of a woman whose sole pleasure was torturing innocent children.

One day, I grabbed my sister and pulled her on the bus instead of going to the gym for latchkey.  I’m sure I put a confident smile on my face and told her it was fine.  I dragged her to my neighbor’s door and announced that I didn’t like latchkey and asked if we could stay there until our parents came home.

My mom was furious when she got home.  She was paying for the damn program, for starters.  She had arrived at our school to pick us up, only to find that we had never arrived (as a parent now I cannot imagine the cold fist of fear that must have gripped her stomach at that news).  And, she came home to find us eating ice cream and laughing at something on TV at our neighbor’s house.  I definitely got grounded for that one.

When my eight-year-old self reminded me of latchkey, I felt a wave of shame and remorse, which was exacerbated by the fact that I can’t call my parents and apologize for being such an ass all those years ago.  They worked so hard, skipping lunches and study halls to finish paperwork so they could rush home and be a present and positive energy in our young lives. They tried like mad to find inviting and structured environments for us to be well taken care of when they were working.  They chauffeured us to ballet, art and music class, tennis, horseback riding lessons, and any other whim we wanted to indulge in.  They never complained about how hard they had to work (well, rarely complained…).  My response was to ungraciously make them feel like crap for not being home for us right after school.  I’m pretty certain I even compared our torture at latchkey to the stable, cozy lives of my classmates whose mothers did stay at home.  I’m sure that made my mom feel great.

And now karma deals its blow.  As a working parent, I’m facing the same questions.  I spend hours worrying about how we will handle kids and careers.  I wonder what sacrifices I will make that will be disdained by my children.  The cycle of insolence and ingratitude will be repeated once more!  My kids will blame me for their problems and their emotional trauma, just as I blamed mine for subjecting me to (horror of horrors!) a couple of extra hours playing with classmates at the gym after school.



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