Over the 15 years that we’ve had children in school, my husband and I have managed not to have latch-key kids. Until now. For years, one or the other of us could be at home in the afternoon when they got home. Sometimes that meant picking them up from school and bringing them up to campus while I finished the work day, sometimes it meant finishing the work day at home, but one way or another we managed. It helped, of course, that we both had very flexible schedules, and that we (and our department chairs) were able to schedule our classes for prime times, so that one of us could get usually home before the school day ended. I did once teach a night class rather than teach during homework-and-dinner-prep time, and I’m in awe of those who do so all the time — that is really not my time of day. For a while one or the other of my kids was often in after-school soccer because it bought us an extra hour before pickup time on practice days—that ended, though, when it became clear that neither one had any interest in soccer beyond the camaraderie, so when the games got serious they gave it up. (And, for the record, no, I’ve never asked a childless colleague to teach late so I didn’t have to, nor has my chair ever made such a request for me. So far — fingers crossed — it’s all worked out fairly easily.)
More recently, my husband has picked up much of the slack, working from home as my administrative load has increased. So now, though I still rarely teach late in the day, I do occasionally have meetings that go until 4 or 5 pm — or even, as today, beyond. (Sometimes I even schedule them myself.) The first few weeks of classes when it was clear that this would become a more regular occurrence there was still no problem — my middle-school son wasn’t back in school yet anyway and was at home with his dad.
But school started last week and his dad’s out of town right now, and I’m solo parenting it for once. And today and tomorrow I have late afternoon meetings. Since my son is thirteen and reasonably responsible, we decided he could have a key and let himself in, and he’d call to announce his return.
I’m waiting for that call right now.
And after reading Susan O’Doherty’s blog post  today I’m already counting the ways this could go wrong. A party in Central Park isn’t at all my concern, nor do I expect the cops to get involved, but there are many different kinds of near misses. He left a lunchbox at school last week; did he somehow lose his key? Or is the bus running late? If he missed the bus I would already have heard, I imagine, but what if he just couldn’t manage the rather sticky key in the very old lock?
Of course the call just came and all is well. There’s homework to worry about, and I do still have that meeting to go to, but for the moment another milestone’s been passed and all is well.
I do know I’ve been fortunate in this one. My milestone is a lot of other people’s day-to-day existence, and more parents than not patch together after-school programs, childcare arrangements, swing shifts, babysitting co-ops, and various other maneuvers to make their days work. I’m grateful that we managed to do all right for this long. And, like a lot of other parents every day, I’m glad that call came in when it did.