Latchkey OG

“You were made for this,” the owner of Biker Barre, who’s also a dear friend, said as I assembled a plan for how Capitol Hill’s favorite indoor cycling + barre studio could provide online content to clients during the COVID shutdown. “You should be head of FEMA.”

I’m not always great in an emergency but I feel like I’m crushing this one. After all, I excel at social distancing (aka preparing to introvert) and I follow the rules, skills that stem from my being the Latchkey OG. 

I was nine years old when my mom asked if I felt comfortable taking care of my little brother (7) after school until she got home from work. Even at a young age, I knew I’d be more attentive than Debi, who was 16 and had two kids of her own. I knew I’d be nicer to my brother than Betty, who abided by a 50s style of governing kids. I knew I’d be less naughty than Gloria, whose boyfriend would give us money to go to 7-11 for ice cream while they made out (and probably more) on the couch. Hey, it was the 70s!

But there were strict rules to being a latchkey kid. I had to hold my brother’s hand crossing the one street that separated our elementary school from our house. (He probably still has the bruises from my tight grip.) I could make us a healthy snack when we got home—usually mayonnaise sandwiches, which are delicious, don’t @ me. We could not answer the door under any circumstance. No talking to strangers or taking their candy or helping find their lost puppies. And if the phone rang, never let on to the caller that mom wasn’t home because that person could take advantage of two unaccompanied kids. 

Like much of Gen X, I’ve been basically prepping for the worst for forty years.

An aside: Mom instituted one rule we didn’t follow: we weren’t allowed to watch the Brady Bunch. The problem was, I loved the Brady Bunch, and given I was keeping my brother safe and fed, I thought I deserved screen time with this televised blended family. I’d turn it on, but pretend to be asleep on the couch when she got home so that I wouldn’t get in trouble. Remember, these were the old timey days when we had to get up out of our seats and walk all the way over to the TV to flip the channel or turn it off.

Seriously, this all relates to the COVID-19 crisis.

When I saw the meme floating around about Gen X being well suited to meet the challenges posed by the coronavirus, I felt a sense of validation. Yes, I stocked my cabinets with non-perishable foods, but I did not hoard toilet paper. Yes, I started following the CDC guidelines to socially distance well before most people took them seriously. (A friend reported from Arlington, Virginia today that the restaurants were packed at lunch. GO HOME, PEOPLE.) In my house, we wash our hands on the regular and do not rely on that now scarce commodity, hand sanitizer. 

I prepare the best I can (hold your brother’s hand!) but gird for the worst (that strange person who calls the house might come and get you). 

Not much changes. Growing up, I’d lie in bed hoping (praying?) we wouldn’t get into a nuclear war with the USSR in the middle of the night. When I was a sophomore in high school in Maine, my English class watched the Challenger explode on live TV and then after, we continued with our previously scheduled lesson until the bell rang. At age 21, high school friends were shipped off to Iraq for the first Gulf War. (Ironically, I heard from one of those friends yesterday. He reached out to tell me that my recent blog posts are comforting in this time of uncertainty.) In our middle age, Gen X has already experienced multiple economy crashes and wars, not to mention 9/11. In some ways, it we’ve been playing crisis whack-a-mole our entire lives.

And it’s an understatement to call our current circumstances unsettling, posing wake up at 3:18 and don’t fall back to sleep levels of stress. Outwardly, I make comfort food for Jack and Colin. Try to stick to schedule. Meditate. This morning, I live streamed yoga taught by my sister.

I’m wearing my best latchkey kid “my mom can’t come to the phone right now” face. Being organized and prepared gives me a sense of control. But inside, I’m scared like I’ve never been before.