I Was a Latch-Key Kid (And Look How I Turned Out!) – Kveller
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I Was a Latch-Key Kid (And Look How I Turned Out!)

In “Do Kids Raised By Nannies Really Turn Out Okay?” Renee Septimus asked the question:

Yet again we read a piece from the points of view of the mothers and the nannies. What always seems to be missing in these articles is the point of view of the children, arguably the most important actors in this story. The grown–up children, I mean–people who were raised with nannies, who by now have some perspective on the experience. Wouldn’t it be interesting and important to hear from them?


I confess, I did not have a nanny growing up. I was, however, from the age of 7 on, a latch-key kid (though I did not wear said key on a latch around my neck. It was hidden under a flower pot. Deviously clever, no?).

Every day, after my car pool dropped me off after school, I would go into our apartment house’s backyard, fish out the key, take it upstairs, and open the door. I would then call my dad at work to let him know that I’d arrived safely. My mother usually left me something to eat that didn’t require cooking, like a sandwich. But, if the situation called for turning on the stove, say to make hot dogs–a special treat–I would do so and then call my father again, to inform him that I hadn’t burned the house down.

After that, I had several hours on my own to finish my homework, read, watch TV, whatever.

In the summertime, if arrangements hadn’t been made for camp or some other activity, the couple of hours in the afternoon turned into all day.

And, what can I say? I loved it.

I ate what I wanted, how I wanted, i.e. not in the kitchen, but on the floor in the living room in front of the TV.

I did my homework when I wanted, where I wanted, i.e. not on the desk in my room, but on the floor in the living room in front of the TV.

To summarize: I watched a lot of TV. I started out with Lost In Space in the mornings, moved into a block of sitcom reruns–The Monkees, The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gomer Pyle, then switched the channel to ABC’s soap opera line-up, All My Children, One Life to Live, General Hospital, followed by a chaser of The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, then onto game shows.

I had very eclectic interests as a child.

I read books I was supposed to for school (The Chosen), books that had been recommended by our children’s librarian (Lois Lowry), and books that I probably shouldn’t have (Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York City at the age of 10, anyone)?

On occasion, I even read books I wasn’t supposed to while eating where I wasn’t supposed to while watching television I wasn’t supposed to.


Were there drawbacks to this arrangement?

Well, sure. After being lectured by my parents about how I was never to open the door to a stranger or even let on that I was home alone, I lived in terror of a knock or a full out home invasion. That’s why, while sitting and eating on the floor watching television, I positioned myself in such a way that I could always see the door. (Not that I had any idea what I would do if someone actually did try to break in. But, eternal vigilance beat sitting in my room and jumping every time I heard a suspicious creak from the outside. I gather my theory was, at least I wouldn’t be snuck up on.)

Also, at some point on the 3:30 Movie (see, I did vary my selections once in a while, especially if Planet of the Apes was involved), I saw a plane crash into a private house and cause it to burst into flames.

After that, I froze every time I heard the whir of a motor overhead, listening closely until I was sure the sound was getting quieter, meaning it had passed, rather than louder, suggesting it was about to plummet through the roof at any moment. (Twenty years later, on 9/11, I had a moment of, “Aha! See! I knew it could happen!”)

Did I ever get lonely? Bored? I must have. How else to explain the time I jumped off the second floor balcony, just to see what would happen. (For those playing along at home, what happened was: I hurt my ankle.)

Or the time I climbed onto our third story roof, walked to the very edge and looked down. What happened then was that I never did it again. (I still get a little sick to my stomach even thinking about it now. Three stories up is high.)

But, even in spite of all that, would I have changed a thing? Maybe.

Maybe if I’d started off having a parent or other adult at home and then been left to my own devices, I might have missed the company–or the supervision.

But, the way things turned out, my latch-key phase coincided with our family’s immigration to the US. My entire world was turned upside down, and this was just one part of it. My parents had to go to work, and I had to stay home alone, and that was that.

It got so, on occasions when they were home–holidays, sick, etc.–I resented the interference. They were messing with my well-oiled routine, offering unsolicited opinions like maybe a child shouldn’t be watching 10 hours of television straight a day, or sitting in the closet, door closed, flashlight in hand, making up an entire fantasy world for her dolls, instead of playing out in the fresh air with other children. Yeah, well, other children wanted to play their way. In the closet, I was a very happy Dictator for Life.

Did spending so much time on my own have a negative effect on me? It’s possible. I wasn’t the most social of people in high school or college or even today. Then again, I married a man who isn’t particularly social either, and we proceeded to be quasi-hermits–together. On the other hand, I got very good at taking care of myself (don’t let the roof episode fool you), at entertaining myself, and, when I got bored with the books I was reading, I simply sat down and wrote my own. At the age of 17. It was quite… um… bad. So I wrote another. And another. And another. And I sold my first title to a publisher at the age of 23.

Then again, there was the ultimate consequence of my years home alone: I majored in television in college. And then I went to work in it.

Read from one grandmother who felt damaged by her parents’ absence, why Mayim Bialik doesn’t have a nanny, and chronicles from the nanny war.

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