It occurred to me this morning that in October of this year, John Lennon would have been 80 years old. That is, twice as old as he was when he was killed at age 40 in 1980. It’s strange to think that I am nearly 8 years older than Lennon was when he died.
The reason this was on my mind was because of a tweet by Anil Dash addressed to Gen Xers:
As a Gen Xer, and former latchkey kid, I considered this and decided that I was either 8 or 9 years old when I walked home from school with a key hung on a string around my neck. The variability (8 or 9) is due to some fuzziness of memory. Two events stand out in my mind, and I may have conflated them, but here they are:
- I remember walking home from Cedar Hills Elementary school on a mild afternoon, on December 8, 1980. I had to call my mom at work when I got home to let her know I was home safe. I remember the specific date because my mom was crying, and that was when I learned that John Lennon had been shot and killed.
- A few months later, on a much warmer day on March 30, 1981, I walked home from school–with my younger brother, I think–and learned that President Reagan had been shot.
I think I have blended these two events together in my mind, but in trying to answer Anil’s question, the best I can do is to say if I was a latchkey kid when Lennon was killed, I was eight, and if I was a latchkey kid when Reagan was shot, I was 9.
Regardless of when I became a latchkey kid, the fact is I was one. I had an actual key on a piece of string tied around my neck. When I got home from school, I walked into the kitchen and picked up the wall phone and dialed my mom’s office to let her know that I had arrived home safely. I don’t remember what time I got home from school, and what time my mom or dad arrived home after. I’d guess I got home around 3 pm and that one or both of my parents was typically home around 5 pm or so.
I did homework, I ate a snack. I’m not sure what else I did early on, but after the summer of 1981, one thing I know I did was flip on MTV and watch music videos.
I do think about this sometimes, with respect to my own kids. My son and older daughter are both at least the age that I was when I was a latchkey kid. But a lot has changed since the days I was a latchkey kid that makes it easier for them to avoid being latchkey kids themselves. For one thing, we can, for the most part, work from home, so that there is no need for them to be latchkey kids. For another, if the kids are home alone, they have phones, they can use to text us, or call us, wherever we are, a luxury that didn’t exist at the time when MTV was born. (We had phones, of course, but not mobile devices that we carried with us.)
Some of the implication here, I suppose, is that latchkey kids are somewhat more self-reliant than kids of a similar age today. I couldn’t say. For me, I never really thought much about it beyond the iron-clad rule of calling my mom’s office once I got home. I wasn’t doing much more than what I would have done if my parents had been home when I got back from school. And I could, at times, engage in questionable behavior when my folks weren’t around. Just ask my sister about the time I convinced her to jump off some railroad ties along our driveway, and the resulting bloody mouth she ended up with–all while I was supposed to be watching her while my parent’s were out.
To hold being a latchkey kid as a point of pride over “kids today” seems rather mean-spirited and pointless. It was as fact of life, that’s all. Looking back, I think I would rather have had that extra couple hours a day with my parents around, and I am grateful to have that time with my own kids. I don’t think it made me any better than kids today who don’t have to be latchkey kids. It just helps me empathize with those that do.