My NOLA Life: Latchkey & RTA Kid

This morning I became frustrated with my girls, wondering why is it so hard to get 7yr old girls ready for school, actually kids period. Each morning it seems we have to beg them out the bed, beg them to wash their face, brush their teeth and force them out the door to be walked to school by an adult. I do not get it?? I was a latchkey kid, who was responsible for my little sister and we caught the city bus to school. I didn’t need any reminders to do anything and now I have 3 generations of kids that required help with everything.

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At 7 years old I was catching the RTA New Orleans Public Transportation to and from school alone. Not only did I have to keep up with my bus ticket, make it to the bus stop on time to get to my grandmother’s house across the tracks in the Desire Project, I had to dodge Coke Cola bottles being thrown at me by my fellow classmate who I shall name Lucifer, because he was mean. That is until I brought him a Butterfinger after school one day. I remember the day I finally was free from him bullying me. My Mama always gave me extra money just in case I lost my bus ticket and money to stop at the Frozen Cup Lady House. I treated my friends often, so it was known I had money. It was raining after school one day as I started walking out of the gate and there he came with a broken umbrella, saying he would walk me to by bus stop if I would buy him some candy, he said his friend said I was gonna beat him up if he talked to me, that’s why he threw the bottles and he wanted be my friend. I was taller than everyone, so that may have been true and was the reason no one ever stole my coins. So,there we went, my new friend and I, walked in the rain to the sweet shop. He made sure the broken part of the umbrella was over him, keeping me dry for the most part. We went in the Sweet Shop and he picked out a king size Butterfinger, walked me to my bus stop, waited for the bus to come and off he went never to bother me again. Well, shortly afterwards I was enrolled in Allen elementary in uptown New Orleans, he may have found a new chic to hustle.

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Catching the bus from Lockett Elementary to my grandmother’s house, well the Desire Project is not a house and I’m unsure why we, locals call our residence “houses” in NOLA, but that’s another topic. Anyway, it was about 6 blocks away, a 3 minute ride across the track and my Uncle Michael would meet me at the bus stop to walk me across the street. Thinking back now, I wasn’t supposed to cross the street going to the Sweet Shop, but Lucifer was with me and he was street smart and 8 years old in the 1st grade, so it was cool and he showed me how to get across. A task that I would need soon after. The train broke down right where the bus needed to cross and I needed to get to my Momo house. I had no choice, but to break another rule and get to walking. I followed the older kids over the track, jumping over the springs that link the trains together. I remember picking up a few of the rocks that covered the railway, thinking I had diamonds. They were so black and white speckled with chunks of a crystal like stones and I just knew that this walk would pay off big time. My Uncle Michael heard about the train and met me along the walk. I think if I would have not made the decision to walk, I would have got in trouble for just standing waiting on someone to get me.

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My entire school life was catching the city bus, I didn’t know what a yellow school bus was and I was shocked to see kids waiting for their own bus with their fellow classmates on it in Minnesota.  We had to be conscious of where to sit and who to sit by when the bus was crowded. Oh, lawd don’t let a bummy stinky man come stand in front of you, because there are no seats. My sister and I sat at the front of the bus and with each other at all times. It must have been nice to not ride public transportation with strangers on it and the responsibilities that came with it. But on the flip side dids on the school bus have no clue how to ride the city bus, they have temper tantrums if they can’t sit with their friends and have the nerve to fight on the bus and only get warnings… Sounds kinda bratty to me. The bad kids who wanted to fight on the RTA did it off the bus or would get banned from riding and a ride in NOPD car. Plus, it was not smart to look rowdy or like you wanted to fight, because the bus driver would pass up the whole stop leaving innocent students to wait on the next bus.

I actually can say that the RTA Bus helped me to be responsible in public as well as assisted in my social development.  Did I  mentioned I had to keep up with my bus ticket, which was the same as money. I forgot about the thin paper perforated tear off transfers that we needed to get on the next bus. If I lost either one and didn’t have any money once I realized it was lost I would be walking and more than likely for miles. Once a week I was sent home with a manila envelope with the bus tickets, my Mama had to sign stating she had them and I would return the envelope the next day. If I did not return the envelope I could not get bus tickets. Parents had to sign, because if anything happened to those tickets it would be the parents responsibility to get the student to school.

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Growing up in New Orleans as latchkey kids riding the RTA Bus taught important life skills that most kids don’t learn until high school graduation. It also helped us respect and appreciate my mother, who was a single parent. My Daddy was in our lives, but we lived with my Mama and we saw how she worked to provide for us. She left out for work before us, I was the oldest and felt honored to be entrusted with making sure my sister and I ate and left out for school on time. I had to lock up the house as well. I had a lil routine and everything, I watched the Flintstone’s and as soon as the Jetson’s theme song went off it was time to go. If by chance we ran late, the transfer would serve as documentation for being tardy.

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On average my sister and I would catch two buses to school, which was the Magazine and the Napoleon while we were in enrolled at Allen elementary. The buses connected and we would have to cross the street to get to the other. One morning as we were exiting the Magazine bus, the Napoleon bus was looking as if it was about to take off. Not wanting to miss the bus, I had my sister’s hand and attempted to cross in front of the bus we got off, while the light was red and as we peeked out a truck came speeding past us. I felt the wind of it brush across my face, my heart was racing looking down at my hand to make sure my sister was still holding on to it and she was. If we would have move an inch forward we would have been hit. The bus driver scolded us as we got on, the older kids were laughing hysterically, saying things such as “ya’ll was about to eat the ground or ya’ll was bout to get pancaked.” It was a terrible experience, I learned from it, but it also affected me negatively socially. I was 12 years old and embarrassed by the teenagers who attended Fortier High School that was next to our school. So, instead of risking being teased, I made the decision to have us leave out earlier to walk to the Street Car, which was about 4 blocks away from our house and the Magazine was not even a block, but my pride was at stake. We loved catching the street car, plus it allowed us to stop at the beautiful Latter Public Library.

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Being out in the world at an early age helped with social and safety skills. Everyday we tell our children to not talk to strangers and yet they do, but back then I knew the importance of the rules my Mama set for us. Of course we didn’t follow all of them, but as the saying goes, “a smart mouth make a soft ass.” My Mama didn’t just say go catch the bus at 7yrs old, she or someone else came along, showed me the lay of the land and made me aware of the dangers that are in it. I was taught to rely on my senses which may be what stopped my feet that day I attempted to dash out for the bus. Losing my key taught me how to put it away in my shoe and not in my pocket, because it may slip out after a trip to the bathroom. Losing my bus ticket taught me problem solving and not being embarrassed to ask for help. I learned time management and being accountable for my little sister. More than anything I was able to see and meet lots of different people and learned the importance of eye contact, body langauge and speaking up for myself.

After I graduated from 6th grade I left my sister in elementary who was two years behind me and the dynamics changed, because of puberty. I still operated as usual as far as taking care of my sister, but my Mama left out after us and got back after we got in. So instead of locking up, I had to let us in and fix us something to eat after school, which was a microwave dinner, a go to then for latch key kids. Each morning I walked with my sister to the bus stop or street car and we would meet up at the library after school.

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A few times I found myself punished, which meant my Mama made me wear some homemade clothes and that was not a good look for a 13yr old girl. So, I would walk my sister as usual, telling her that I that I’m going to walk around a bit, go to McKenzie and etc to blow time until Mama left out an hour later. I would go back home change my clothes, go to class, make up some excuse for being tardy and my Mama would never know.

My sister never told on me no matter what I did, another perk of growing up before these brats. They tell on each other even when they did something to the other. The kid honor code has long been gone.

By the time 9th grade came I found myself skipping class only to make my way to Pennyland on Canal St., where all the juvenile delinquents would go. I would get a transfer and catch the bus back just in a knick of time before it expired. My crew from the Iberville Project were certain to be at the arcade room or somewhere along  Canal St., so it was no biggie if I couldn’t get one of my friends from school to skip class or dodge the entire half of school with me. At one point the schools took away the bus tickets and replaced them with stickers which didn’t expire and you can ride multiple buses. So, an uptown girl like me could go visit her boyfriend who lived way in New Orleans East or we would sneak into to Loews movie theatre and kiss the entire movie away. We were good with figuring out how to make up for the lack of funds. During this time the Ferry was free, so we would ride on it like it was a mini cruise boat lol, but don’t get stuck across that river, there was no walking back over the bridge. If someone didn’t have a pass, we would either hand it out the window or open the back door and give it to them so they could get on. I think it only lasted a year and cost triple of what our bus tickets went for.

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As a teen latch key kid, I’m not sure if a teenager could be classified as that, but I did not allow boys to come to my house, because of my little sister. Now, that didn’t mean I didn’t meet them at the park or go to their unsupervised house. No matter the case when we had the house “to ourselves” as kids, we made sure to follow all the rules outside of “don’t let no one in my house.” I always made sure our chores was done, homework done and along with anything my Mama wanted done. There would not be a clue of what I did that day, the same went for my teen family and friends. What comes to mind is the poodle, Leonard from the movie, Secret Life Of Pet when he has a house party and he hears the owner comes in and everyone disappears, that’s just how we did it lol. Now, kids will have their friends in the house like they live there too, things tossed here and there, room dirty and have no clue what chores are.

I believe that going up with responsibilities such as, going to the store, discerning what strangers to talk to, going places alone, time management helped me to grow up into a well-rounded adult. It gave me independence and allowed me to have one on one time with myself at short period of times allowing me to know my likes and dislikes. My Mama would call at a certain time to make sure we made it in, we had her work number as well as emergency numbers, our neighbors and my Momo was always available. We knew the importance of not playing on the phone, we knew an emergency was not “my sister hit me.”

It also, deepened my relationship with my little sister, we have an unbreakable bond and that came from knowing that we had to have each others backs. There was no sibling rivalry, just love and admiration for each other.

It has been theroized that latchkey kids made out all right.

I believe it too. It’s a life neccessity that kids learn independence and social skills outside of their parents wings of protection. I think latchkey kids actually fair out better than kids who are sheltered and supervised at all times, parents as well. At times a parent may feel that their kids are preventing them from living the life that they want or a life that is needed to support the family. By teaching, allowing a child to be more independent may be beneficial to the parent and the child.

I must admit that I need to stop being overly protective of my girls, I realized this after walking them school and Niyah walked fast saying she didn’t need to be walked, but I didn’t think she could walk the one block to the school by herself, when at 7 years old I was catching the bus..

Yes, this latch key kid is guilty of not allowing her 7yr old to have at least one block of independence. I think it has a lot to do with the world we live in, this is not a world of the 70s and 80s anymore. Now, I’m left wondering how to teach independence in this perverted world we live in or have I let the hype get to me and I’m being just as overlyprotective and paranoid as other parents??

It’s like a catch 22, lots of things of yesteryear needed to change, but some things could have stayed the same…..

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