Benefits of being a latch-key kid

In the 50s, when I was in grade school, my mom was one of the very few mothers who worked outside the home.  Back then, I wished my mom could be like other mothers.  I envied the friends who didn’t walk into an empty house.  Mom was a nurse, Dad a police officer, both very responsible. There was always an emergency plan in place.  We knew who to call and where to go in case of trouble. There was never a question of whether my brother and I were safe. They always made sure of that. 

Even so, I was a latch-key kid.  The key was under the front door mat.  My brother had friends in the neighborhood and things to do.  So when he got home from school, he grabbed his bike and took off.   I did homework (sometimes), wandered around the house and lived inside my head.  Imagination is a wonderful thing, and I had plenty of time on my own to exercise it.  I had an imaginary friend and we carried on lengthy conversations – silent ones after my brother and one of his friends hid in the house intending to scare me, and never jumped out because they thought someone else was in the house with me.

Now, it isn’t one imaginary friend who keeps me company.  It’s a congress of voices with ideas popping and characters being birthed inside my head and squalling for attention.  Be quiet and let the other one speak!  Stop interrupting each other! I don’t always like what they have to say.  They can be downright distracting.   What was I going downstairs to get?  I can’t remember.  I was too busy listening.

Rick and I have been married long enough that he knows what certain expressions mean.   He no longer has to ask, “Am I the good guy or the bad guy today?” He knows I’m not plotting his murder.  I’m just thinking.  Or rather listening.  Or should I call it dictation?  Where did I put my notebook?  Now, would you say that again?

I wonder sometimes if I would have become a writer at all if I’d had a stay-at-home Mom.  In the fifties, every home didn’t have a television.  We did have one, but there were only three channels and poor reception, so why bother watching?  Being a couch potato when I got home wasn’t really appealing.  I might have felt differently if I’d enjoyed reading, but I preferred being outside where it was easier to imagine being lost in the wilderness or hunted by Indians.  I could imagine climbing over the fence and taming the wild horse in the field next door.  It didn’t matter that it was a cow.  I could invade my brother’s fort searching for treasures or secrets (even when none existed).  I could head for the big swing my dad built and just swing, mind in orbit.   I could sit on the grassy hillside or the garden somewhere and imagine a tiny world at my fingertips.  (I did read Horton Hears a Who.)  I could be a princess in a castle or coming across the plains on a Conestoga wagon.  I could be a stowaway on a ship going around the world or a peacemaker on my way to Russia to talk sense to Nikita Khrushchev and end the Cold War.  I could be hiding from Godzilla (the first, not the latest one) or aliens who sank their space ship in the hill behind our house. 

Growing up as a latch-key kid wasn’t such a bad thing.  Of course, I was in the country.  Not much chance of joining a gang when there is no gang around.

I often wonder if all the technology available to children these days helps or hinders the imagination.   Do all the games and texting and time spent on social media stimulate or dull the imagination?   I don’t know. 

Ah, but just take that one question and imagine where it could lead…