Latchkey Generation

I remember being small – probably four years old – and going outside to play in the back yard. My mom told me to “stick close by.” I assume she watched me out the kitchen window. This is what kids did back then.

It was different when my sister was home. But, being four years older than I, she was already in school all day by the time I was a toddler. So I learned to entertain myself: gathering dead grass to make bird nests, poking holes in the dirt with a stick, or observing, through the back fence, the kids from the large foster home that abutted our property. Later in the day I’d head down to the corner of our cul de sac and sit on the fire hydrant to wait for the mailman. The normal afternoon of a four year old in 1964, I suppose.

Fast forward a few years and I was zooming around the neighborhood – a different, larger but still presumably safe one – on my bike. No one was afraid to be outdoors or alone. I walked alone to and from a friend’s birthday party in fourth grade that was located in a neighborhood on the other side of our town’s main road. No one drove me or picked me up, since it was barely a half mile from home. Again, I felt it was a normal way of life for a nine year old. I do remember rumors about some weird guy who hung out around the marina. But I steered clear of that place and I don’t remember if I ever actually saw him.

As a teenager I had many hours of unsupervised time. Because my parents had split up, my mom now worked and wasn’t at home when I got out of school. I officially became a latchkey child. I don’t remember ever being afraid to come home to an empty house. I was, however, deeply ashamed of the fact that I came from a broken home. I took great care not to let anyone know the truth about my family status.

Looking back knowing what I know now about divorce statistics in the 1970s, I’m sure many kids were going through the same thing as my sister and I were. But we didn’t talk about it, not to each other and not to our friends. As a tween and then a teenager, I had a tremendous need to “appear normal”.