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Lord of the Latchkey Kids

November 4, 2011

This may seem a wee bit wiggity-wiggity-whack, but the 1985 movie The Goonies makes me weep like a baby.  Like a baby!  

Of course, when I watched it the first time as a kid, I didn’t cry one bit.  True, I likely wet myself in terror.  Specifically, during any scene referencing the pirate One-Eyed Willie.  Which I might’ve mistaken for hot tears washing over me.  But, nope, just pee. 

Today, ah, different.  Today that movie hits me right in the bawl-my-eyes-out bone.

Specifically, at this very part (here).

“Our parents . . . it’s their time, their time up there.  But down here it’s our time, it’s our time down here.”

I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself.

Oh, more time?  Sure, me too . . . . . . .

Oh, that’s just your contact lens?  Moving on . . .

If you don’t get it, maybe it’s because you never experienced the life I once led, the life of a Latchkey Kid.  In which case, you can’t even begin to imagine the pure and utter thrill of being a kid completely free of adult supervision.  Because most of the day, it was their time, it was their time out there.  But from 3:00 to 5:00 it was our time, it was our time . . . yeah, okay, you got it. 

We were something like the Goonies, us Latchkey Kids.  Although, the name Goonies certainly detracts from how cool we were.  Perhaps a better name would be Lords of the Flies – yes, we were Lords of the Flies!  (Here my high school English teacher Mr. Davis would remind me that Lord of the Flies references a decomposing boar’s head.) 

Like in the book Lord of the Flies, we Latchkey Kids didn’t need grown-ups to feed or shelter us.  We didn’t need grown-ups to dictate how to run our complex society.  But, let me be clear, we did not kill anyone.  Okay, yes, we poked at some roadkill with a stick now and then.  And maybe one time it wasn’t quite dead.     

My life ended and began when I turned eight and my mom headed back to work in our family business.  My older brother worked off and on at an afterschool job, and it was decided I’d be fine being on my own.  After all, I was in third grade.  I had begun learning fractions, how volcanoes erupt, and how to read the hands on a clock.  I was practically ready for my own apartment.

Lucky for me I was not alone after all.  There were others like me.  Yes, several of my friends were also left to their own devices between the hours of 3:00 and 5:00. 

After school, friends would end up at each other’s houses and their siblings’ friends would end up at those same houses and no one’s parents seemed to be around and we all sort of mixed together like one big scabby patch of pus.  Which was what we often looked like by 5:00.  

We’d take care of ourselves by taking care of each other.  Take for example, food.  From my friend Cindy and her brother, I learned to prepare an easy, delicious afterschool snack.  Sure, I’ll share that recipe with you.  Got a pen?  Take a piece of Wonder Bread, spread it generously with margarine and microwave it.  Yes, when zapped for about 8 seconds, no more mind you or it’ll get tough, the bread and margarine fuse into a splendid gelatinous sponge of butter-flavored goo with roughly the same nutritional value of aerosol cheese. 

From my friend Geri and her brothers, I learned how to cook frozen chicken strips in a Fry Daddy.  You’re worried about teens driving?  How about allowing 8-year-olds to man a vat of searing hot grease?  In my opinion, this is a good way to prepare them for one day operating another piece of machinery capable of causing extreme fiery carnage. 

Full disclosure, I wasn’t completely without grown-up company — they just weren’t 3-dimensional.  From Andy Griffith, I learned how to whittle a stick while sleuthing out who stole Mr. Martin’s prize milk cow.  From the Bradys, I learned how to drive a car and how to stop just short of knocking over a raw egg.  From Mr. Wizard, I learned how to build my own ant farm, which I had done before but not intentionally.

Some days my brother and I would relax by scaling the 6-foot narrow brick wall that attached to the side of our house.  Often, from there, we would climb onto the roof so we could sprawl out more comfortably.  Like clockwork, at that exact moment, the retired elderly couple who lived across the street would come out of their house and sit in lawn chairs, watching us from their front porch.   I get misty-eyed just thinking of those beautiful moments of inter-generational bonding. 

Like the independent colony that we were, we Latchkey Kids created our own form of language.  This consisted of words like crappola, fartnugget, turdburger, numbnuts, dickhead, dickweed, dickface.  Oh, and whore.  This was a multi-purpose word, I learned.  I decided this when I saw that the teenager my friend’s sister was referring to did not actually wear a purple fur coat or fishnet stockings like the whores on Barney Miller.

Walking home from school was the best chance to refine our new language.  Often, my classmates Doug and J.J. would walk behind me and my friend Cindy.  All along the way we’d exchange a heavy barrage of verbal fireballs.  One day, J.J. said if we didn’t shut up Doug would hump us.  A new word!  Later when we got to my house, we sent out my Cabbage Patch Kid to assist in the rebuttal.  “Keep Out Or I’ll Hump You,” Tilda Bambi bravely proclaimed on the paper sign taped to her head.  When my brother used the same word to refer to my dog having his way with my stuffed bear, I decided this, too, was a multi-purpose word.

With today’s parents and their over-indulging and over-protecting, Latchkey Kids are less and less common and more and more synonymous with Wards of the State.  That’s just plain tragic.  Way more tragic than an 8-year-old fry cook barking orders to her whore-humping dickweed kitchen crew. 

I’m sure my mom would whole-heartedly agree with this assessment and that I have uncovered a sad truth here.  In fact, if my mom reads this post, she may even start weeping like a baby.  Or perhaps she’ll wet herself in terror and confuse it with hot tears washing over her.

38 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2011 2:52 pm

    This is hilarious in the timing. Just the other day I referred to a friend as Sloth from the Goonies. Kenny’s this big, scary dude so it fit. Not sure if he knew who I was talking about.

    My daughter is in 4th grade and I won’t leave her alone to go walk the dog! Probably because you remind me of times like these, sis!

    • November 4, 2011 8:14 pm

      Ugh, your kids are about this age now, aren’t they?! I can at least relax that mine are still years away from this stuff. But your reminder brings it all home. Keep them locked up. I mean it. Giant padlocks.

      Sloth: “Baby Ruth!” See, it comes full circle from my reference to that Old Man candy last week.

  2. November 4, 2011 3:35 pm

    This may be the greatest post ever.
    “Way more tragic than an 8-year-old fry cook barking orders to her whore-humping dickweed kitchen crew” may be the greatest sentence ever to be written in the English language.

    I was also a latchkey kid. I used to order Domino’s Pizza nearly every day and pay for it solely in dimes that I had stolen off my brother’s dresser.

    I also watched a lot of Good Times.

    Good times.

    • November 4, 2011 8:09 pm

      Aw, thanks! That makes me feel all warm and gooey inside like a gelatinous margarine sponge. Really!

      I want to steal that dimes-purchased Domino’s Pizza bit and remarket it as my own. If you see a future post about a Whopper I purchased with my brother’s nickles, I will firmly deny it had anything to do with this comment.

      Dynomite!

  3. November 4, 2011 4:52 pm

    You had me at “incontinence”. Unfortunately, the latch key kids I was involved with were weighing out weed and having sex a bit too early (hence a blog without warm memory references).
    But you. Nice blog! Very good writing.
    Les

    • November 4, 2011 7:58 pm

      Thanks, Les! Very nice words. I’m sure Nancy Reagan was wholly to thank for us not “weighing out weed.” As to the latter, hearing the word “hump” equated to my dog’s dirty dance likely prevented me from jumping into that lake as well.

  4. November 5, 2011 7:15 am

    “Way more tragic than an 8-year-old fry cook barking orders to her whore-humping dickweed kitchen crew. ”

    This sounds like my childhood! We were pretty resourceful back then, weren’t we? Can you imagine what would happen if kids today were left to their own devices?! I laughed all the way through your post because, even though we were technically never “latchkey” kids (my mom was home) we did roam the neighborhood until all hours of the night like a band of ruffians (is that even a word?) The trouble we got into. I would never dream of letting my nine year old son even go outside after 4 pm in my neighborhood. Kinda sad.

    And, don’t hate me, but I have never seen The Goonies in its entirety (gasp!) What’s funny is it’s my husband’s all-time fave movie (after A Christmas Story, which I love) Now that you posted about it, I will have to finally watch it.

    • November 7, 2011 11:13 am

      Oh, Darla, what am I going to do with you — never seen The Goonies in its entirety??? Actually, the first time I saw it as a kid I resented it for giving me nightmares for weeks. I don’t think I watched it all again until I was at least in college. It’s a true classic. A Christmas Story is perhaps the best “day in the life” kid movie though. Your husband has great taste. I worship that movie’s writer/narrator, Jean Shepherd, may he rest in peace.

      Yeah, I agree that a lot of “latchkey kids” might’ve actually had parents around, though you wouldn’t know it. Parents back then were so hands-off. I can imagine even more so when raising six kids!

      I’m going to give you an assignment of watching The Goonies. Then I’d like you to complete a summary thesis on it. I’ll give you until we dismiss for Christmas break.

      • November 9, 2011 1:34 pm

        I’ll try to watch it, but I can’t promise I’ll get past the scenes with that creepy guy….

      • November 10, 2011 4:03 pm

        Sloth? No worries — he’s just a big teddy bear with a mangled face. ;)

  5. November 5, 2011 7:17 pm

    Everybody else likes the barking orders to your kitchen crew line, but I’m partial to you being ready for your own apartment at 8. Great post, Angie, you never know when you’ll need to whittle.

    • November 7, 2011 11:07 am

      Thanks, Publikworks! It might’ve actually been safer for me to have had my own apartment. Less apt to fall off a roof and break my neck.

      Whittling will make a comeback one day, just you wait.

  6. November 6, 2011 8:43 am

    That was a hilarious post! I’m glad to see that I was not the only latch-key kid. I was the only one I knew growing up, so everyone came to my house. The Brady Bunch and Good Times weren’t on when I was growing up (we didn’t have cable) but I learned a lot from Oprah, Phil, and Sally Jesse Raphael. Oh, I wanted big red glasses so bad! We didn’t do as much cooking as you. We spent a lot of time making up dance routines to inappropriate music from 2 Live Crew.

    • November 7, 2011 11:04 am

      Thanks, Emma! Funny, when you said “Phil” I first thought you meant Dr. Phil. How quickly we forget the original daytime Phil, as in Donahue, as in the man who started it all. Sally Jesse’s glasses rocked!

      No parents, 2 Live Crew dance routines….I’m betting your house was the IT place to be!

  7. November 7, 2011 9:48 am

    Until I read this post I hadn’t even known I missed my childhood, afternoon-home-alone days!

    • November 13, 2011 6:48 pm

      Thanks for stopping by! I always try my best here to make people miss the things they didn’t even remember ever doing.

  8. November 7, 2011 10:05 pm

    Fantastic post Angie! I was also a latch-key kid. I remember when my father got a black box because the cable guy told us they wouldn’t give us service (too close to the mountains). Everyone was at my house after that trying to see the “dirty” movies. LOL I think it’s a shame that parents today are so over protective. Kids need some of those experiences to grow and mature.

    • November 10, 2011 3:45 pm

      Thanks, Debra! I love hearing from some fellow latchkey kids, those who lived to tell their own tales. I can imagine you’d be pretty popular having unlimited movie access! I’ll admit I’m over-protective with my own children, poor things, but maybe it’s okay that I haven’t yet let my four-year-old man a Fry Daddy :)

      • November 11, 2011 5:58 am

        I totally agree that you should keep your four-year-old away from the Fry Daddy. I wouldn’t even let my ten-year-old touch one of those things. But man, how my sister loved to fry up everything under the sun in one of those. LOL

        By over protective, I was referring more to things like allowing kids to walk home from school. Things like that. My eldest is itching to spread his wings a little and find some independence. He would love to be a Goonie.

      • November 12, 2011 5:17 pm

        Walking home from school: I hope I can chill enough to allow my children to do this. I want them to have that kind of Beaver Cleaver Age of Innocence childhood, with the exception of Lumpy Rutherford beating up on them. What kind of chill pill is available to me that will help me purge out all the media hype that saturates the news? Poor kids today practically live in crystal snow globes.

        Your sister must’ve been an amazing cook :)

  9. November 11, 2011 3:04 pm

    What a brilliant post! You have the personal essay down. And 80s movies to boot? And Goonies? Wow, you got it goin on. Great stuff.

    • November 11, 2011 3:13 pm

      Thanks for stopping by! Yes, for some time now I’ve been looking for a way to squeeze The Goonies into a post. Now if I could find a way to incorporate Shaun Cassidy, The Goonies, Freezy Freakies gloves, and the Clue board game into the same post, I’ll have done something truly extraordinary.

  10. November 12, 2011 4:17 pm

    “After school, friends would end up at each other’s houses and their siblings’ friends would end up at those same houses and no one’s parents seemed to be around and we all sort of mixed together like one big scabby patch of pus.” –> The Scabby Patch Kids!

    • November 12, 2011 4:57 pm

      You are onto something there! If I can design a line of dolls around this name (and attractive appearance) and market it to Toys R Us, I promise I will not only 1.) split the profits with you, but will also 2.) see to it that your Future Baby will be the first kid on the block to own one.

      • November 12, 2011 8:25 pm

        Seems like I still have your Garbage Pail Kids card collection, sis. Sounds like kinda the same thing. ;)

      • November 13, 2011 2:55 pm

        Do you really? I’d love to see ’em!

      • November 15, 2011 8:08 pm

        Garbage Pail Kids cards were the best!

  11. November 16, 2011 7:21 am

    Hilarious! I was a latchkey kid, too. It was a divine time.

    • November 16, 2011 9:18 pm

      We former latchkey kids are like dinosaurs in this day and age.

  12. February 6, 2012 1:46 pm

    This is the funniest frinkin’ blog! And not just because we are close in age and have so many similar experiences . . . . but because YOU write them out for us!

    I was a latch-key kid too — (though I think we said ‘door-key’) — and was feeling guilty that my kids are home alone after school sometimes. (They are home alone sometimes, and I am feeling guilty sometimes.) I don’t think they are having even half the adventures we had back in the day! BTW – don’t try to hard boil an egg in the microwave . . .I’m just sayin.

    I am Naughty

    • February 6, 2012 5:25 pm

      Thanks for reading! I’m happy to be an appointed spokesperson of our generation. But that means I get to push for Mayor McCheese for President.

      Yes, in my latchkey days, I tried to cook many, many things in the microwave that should never, ever be made in the microwave.

  13. July 1, 2012 10:09 pm

    Oh yeah, that hit real close to home. Except we didn’t have a microwave, so my food of choice was mustard sandwiches. Two slices of bread, slather one with butter, the other with French’s mustard, slap together and eat. Delicious AND nutritious!

    • July 5, 2012 7:14 pm

      Yum, mustard and butter sandwiches! Now you’re talking! And then, for dessert — let me guess — graham cracker frosting sandwiches?

  14. August 3, 2012 10:28 am

    Oh, wow, it’s like I’m reading my own history! We must be about the same age because I am nodding my head at everything you say. I was a latchkey kid also. I wore the key on a necklace around my neck – classy. My brother got home not too long after I did, and we did fun stuff like bake marshmallows and gummie bears in the Microwave. My parents still don’t know half the stuff we did.

    • August 3, 2012 8:14 pm

      Bake marshmallows and gummy bears in the microwave? You are my hero! That’s good stuff right there. I was never classy enough to wear my key around my neck. I think we actually left our back door unlocked. Smart, huh.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  15. January 11, 2013 11:38 am

    This definitely related to my childhood relived this very moment. Thanks for the reminiscence. <a href=”http://encompassingchaos.wordpress.com/2012/02/15/i-never-knew-i-was-poor-until-i-grew-up/”

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