Monday, January 8, 2018

Latch Key Kids In Action

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 10, 2018] ©2018
I was interested to read in a recent La Jolla Light that the issue of whether to change the start time of Muirlands Middle School and La Jolla High is once again being raised. 
My sons are now in their late thirties so it’s a moot point.  But my vote, if I had one, would be a resounding yes.  Please start school one hour later.
Some memories never leave you. One of them is dropping off comatose teenage boys at La Jolla High school at 7:10 every morning.  I always prayed that whatever their first period class was would never be a subject they would need later in life.
They were usually asleep by 10:30 p.m. at the latest.   But teenagers are not, by definition, morning people.  Ironically, the morning people are the elementary school kids who started school at least an hour later. 
At the time, I was told that the start times at the various schools were totally dependent on the school bus schedules.  The buses had to go pick up the older kids first, then go back and get the younger ones.  But it still never made sense to me that the early risers were the once picked up second. 
I remember getting a survey when they were in high school addressing the issue of latch key kids and how this problem could be solved.  I returned it writing across it in big letters: START SCHOOL ONE HOUR LATER. 
Very few working parents have the flexibility to be home at 2 p.m.  Fortunately, one of my sons had an after school job for his last two years, and the other was usually playing sports. But they both usually came home to an empty house.
I was genuinely concerned about this.  I always told the kids that if someone came to the door when they were alone that they should say that their mother was taking a nap and couldn’t come to the door.  Never open the door to someone you don’t know, or admit you are there alone. 
Of course, you can’t predict everything that could go wrong. Oh no.
One afternoon when I got home from work, 13-year-old Rory greeted me in the driveway.  “Do you want the good news or the bad news?” he says.   When someone asks you that you know there’s bad news and worse news.  There is no good news to be had.
He had met a new friend, he reported (the good news).  Where is he?  I say.  He’s in the hospital, says Rory.  He fell out of our tree and broke his leg.
Is his father a lawyer, I ask?  Rory doesn’t know.  But he does know that his Mom is a teacher whose school lets out at 3:30. And like me, she has left explicit instructions that she is not to be called at work unless it is an “emergency.”  Turns out her definition of emergency is pretty much the same as mine:  someone is not breathing or has lost at least a quart of blood. 
Rory and his new friend and another kid who was over that day assess the situation:  is this in fact an emergency?  The poor kid is lying on the ground in tremendous pain.  He had decided to jump out of the tree with our rope swing but let go (way) too soon.  As a single parent living a month-to-month financial existence, I lived in terror of these possibilities.
The three 13-year-olds assess the situation.  Kid is breathing.  Hasn’t lost any blood. Does pain count?  They – including and especially the injured kid - conclude that this is not a sufficient emergency to incur the wrath of calling Mom at work. But they are all Boy Scouts and have taken First Aid.  So they prop the broken leg up on the kid’s skateboard and carefully secure it there with Velcro strips.
The two non-injured boys keep a supportive vigil and countdown:  “Only 30 more minutes until we can call. Only 15 more minutes etc.…”
Precisely at 3:30, they are on the phone to the school.  Mom rushes over, frantic, loads the kid into her car and rushes off to emergency room.  Rory waits for me. I have an instant feeling that this boy’s parents are going to own my house by nightfall.   And it turns out that his father IS a lawyer.
The poor kid turned out to have a compound fracture.  I called his mother that night, offering to pay his medical bills. They were insanely nice about it, however, and said their medical insurance will cover it. We both agreed we were perhaps defining “emergency” a little too narrowly.  But I’m also guessing that her kids called her at work waaaayyyyy too much, just as mine did.
And both of us Moms wished Muirlands had gotten out at least an hour later. 


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