Little Latchkey Kids (#200)

You know what’s weird about walking dogs? Everyone talks to you. Not just dog-lovers and dog owners, either. People who shouldn’t even be talking to you suddenly become your best friends.

Wait a minute, thinks some judgy reader. (You know who you are.) What kind of elitist are you, Autumn? Which people shouldn’t be talking to you?

Chill, judgy reader. I’m talking about children.

Those small, terrifying creatures that most paranoid adults don’t even want to acknowledge, lest a helicopter parent attribute nefarious motives to a casual wave.

Those precious babies that all parents teach to absolutely NOT talk to strangers.

Parents, I’ve got some bad news. All that stranger danger that you tried to instill in your kids? And all your warnings about how not every dog is friendly?

Your kids forget it ALL the second they see me and my mutts. Never mind that my mutts are 80-90 lbs each.

The second my dogs and I step into a park, we’re mobbed by children.

“They’re so cute!” exclaims one kid.

“Can I pet him?” asks another, as he rubs Woofie’s tummy.

“Is she friendly?” says a third, already kissing Fey’s head.

“You’re so lucky, you have TWO,” another child tells me, trying to embrace a dog with each arm. “I don’t even have ONE.”

Woofie laps up all the attention. Fey merely endures it. I await an onslaught of angry parents, yelling at their drool-coated kids and dragging them away.

But there are no parents. This particular park is right next to an elementary school. Working parents drop their kids off early, or the kids walk to school. The kids hang at the park until the bell rings, then sprint through the school’s back gate. At least once a week, we’re engulfed by dog groupies. I tell the dogs to sit and lie down, so Woofie won’t knock any of them over. Woofie obeys.  Amazed kids are all, “Let me try!” “How did they learn that?!”

Next thing I know, I’m teaching basic dog-training to kids who should not even be talking to me.

“It’s a good thing I’m not a predator,” I tell my husband later. “I could have walked off with ten kids, easy, just by telling them, ‘Hey follow me to this windowless van where I keep my dog treats!’ The Pied Piper has nothing on the Dog-Walker.”

Andy maintains I’m exaggerating until the day I’m injured and he has to do the big dog walk. He returns breathless, eyes wild. “All these kids, they swarmed us! They know the dogs by name, they demanded that I put a milkbone on Woofie’s nose so he could flip his head and catch it, and wouldn’t leave me alone until I had Fey dance! And I tried to get away, but these two boys, they followed me to the edge of the park. I had to tell them the school bell was ringing!”

“Probably Chris and David,” I tell him. “They’re brothers, and they walk to school, and they want a dog so badly. Woofie loves them.”

Chris and David only live two streets away.

Chris and David quickly figure out where we live.

Chris and David come knocking after school. “Hi, can we play with Woofie?”

I’m flummoxed. “Uh…I…does your mom know where you are?”

“She’s not home, but she knows all about you and Woofie and she says it’s fine.”

Woofie’s already whining and wedging his head through the front door. I remember my own days as a latchkey kid, desperate for attention, and the two older ladies who were kind when I visited them. (I think I visited because they had candy bowls rather than dogs, though.) “Uh…okay? Just, um, go around to the back gate.”

There’s no way I’m letting those kids in the house. We’re staying in the backyard, in the light, where nosy neighbors can see us and testify that nothing creepier than Woofie trying to hump Chris ever happens.

The boys have a fine time playing tug-o-war and keep away with the ecstatic Woofie. They start showing up weekly. Eventually, I meet their mother. She’s a single mom, working long hours, and seems grateful that I don’t mind the boys visiting.

And I don’t. Woofie lives to steal a toy from a boy and be chased. Fey lives to ambush Woofie and steal the toy from him. After a visit from the boys, Woofie is too tired to dig up the yard and Fey only barks at the street sweeper twice.

The only unhappy creature is Andy. If he comes home and the boys are over, the man radiates resentment. After they leave, if I comment on his obvious disapproval, he says, “I just don’t understand why they’re in my house. With my dogs.” And his scowl deepens, no matter how many times I explain their situation or tell him to show a little compassion.

I complain about Andy’s complaining to my retired neighbor, Mr. B.

Mr. B used to be an investigator for a district attorney. Mr. B laughs at me and says, “You know, Autumn, that’s normal. If your husband was nice to those boys, I’d be worried.”

“What?! Why?”

“Because men just don’t like any kids that aren’t their own. Take lions — they’ll kill the cubs that aren’t their own offspring. If a guy without kids actually wants someone else’s kids in his house, nine times outta ten he’s gonna be a pedophile.”

“For real?”


When I tell Andy this, he laughs and says, “See!”

“So it’s true? You just don’t want any kid that’s not yours around?”

“I guess so.”

“Well, Woofie loves those boys and they love him, so you’re just gonna have to suck it up for now, but I’ll try and send them home before you get home.”


“Does this…does this mean you’re mad because they aren’t your kids? That you want to have a kid of your own?”

Andy thinks for a full minute and says, “I guess so.”

“Huh. You don’t sound very sure.”

“I’m sure. What about you?”

“You know I’ve always been ambivalent about kids,” I remind him. “I feel like I already raised five.”

“But you said you’d be okay with one, back when we were doing premarital counseling,” Andy reminds me.

“And you said you’d marry me even if I never wanted to have kids,” I shoot back.

And there we are.


Famous impasse from The Princess Bride (but everyone knew that, right?)

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

28 thoughts on “Little Latchkey Kids (#200)”

  1. Wow, this post was VERY enlightening.

    I remember a video came up on my time-sucking Facebook feed, and it was a social experiment of a guy trying to prove just how easy it was to kidnap a child. He asked each parent in the park if they taught their children not to talk to strangers, and they all vehemently said yes–of course–none of their children would go with a stranger! He then said he’d test the kids and, lo-and-behold, he comes out with a dog. The kids swarmed him. He asked the kids if they’d follow him to his car for a dog treat and I think 9/10 kids said they would. The parents watched, horrified.

    Your investigator neighbor’s information is also kind of comforting… but also disturbing, ha. To be fair Richard, and most of my friends’ husbands, don’t really care for kids. I thought they were kind of cold-hearted, but now your post has validated to me that they are, in fact, normal.

    So… you and Andy still at the impasse? 😉

    Or is this a weird time warp post and you are actually 65 years old with 2 grandkids already? haha

    1. Two grandkids? Pah! We have eleven! ROTFLMAO, no, we do not have any grandkids. And we are still together, but yes, this was not exactly a recent impasse, so you are on target with it being a bit of a time warp. But you’ll have to keep reading to see how the situation was resolved.

      I have noticed that since the events of this post, a) more kids ask permission before petting my dog(s) and b) there are fewer kids unattended at the park before school. Maybe all the parents watched the video you were talking about?

      Yes, I, too, thought Andy was sort of a cold-hearted jerk. Then I saw the recent Real Sports documentary on all the molested boys in England’s prestigious soccer clubs. Parents would drop off kids for a weekend with the kids’ coach, even. They had no idea the coach was a predator — they thought they were getting an “in” and their kid would get more playing time. Now those kids are grown up, messed up, and suicidal.

  2. Wow, on so many levels. You are a kind person. Not sure if I’d want the responsibility of kids in my back yard and I sure as hell don’t want to babysit them. Then again, I don’t have any dogs so there wouldn’t be any interest.

    1. Yeah, but if your cats hung out at the park, I bet kids would follow them home. Also, I felt bad for Woofie. He loved little boys so much and it was the one toy he didn’t have. And why, yes, I do have SUCKER written all over me.

  3. I have mixed feelings on this issue. When I was a kid, we ran free around the neighborhood, climbing the old lady’s cherry trees, invading the loft above the old man’s garage. Even now, I talk to strangers a lot and enjoy it. (I suppose I have a sense of whom I should avoid.)

    On the other hand, I want my grandchildren to be safe. The older ones are past the age of danger, and besides, they’re not the type to get talked into anything. The younger one is out a lot. He has a busy schedule with activities, mostly sports, every day after school. I feel like there are several things that help keep him safe: His dad is the soccer coach; he has many close friends, and his parents and their parents have become close friends. Also, he’s unusually alert, a super fast runner, and usually wins his karate matches. I hope he’s careful about strangers, but I also hope fear doesn’t squash his naturally outgoing nature.

    1. Yeah, it’s a tough line parents have to walk these days. Wrap your kid in cotton wool and they’ll never gain the confidence that comes from triumphing over the unfamiliar, but if you’re too permissive or neglectful, they fall through the cracks.

  4. While it’s normal enough to not want strange kids in your house for many reasons, that interpretation by your neighbor Mr. B is kind of creepy… He seriously thinks that way?

    Most men would not put it that way.

      1. I would simplu say that kids are messy and annoying. Mentioning pedophilia and lions killing cubs is rather creepy.

        Ah a right-wing troll attitude, that explains it!

        1. But he does have a point, as many sad documentaries have shown. If a single guy is cool with your kids hanging out with him on the weekend, there might be a reason why he’s cool with messy and annoying kids at his house.

          But, yeah, right wing for sure.

  5. Oooo. I really like this post. Quite a few things to talk about here.

    Those kids sound SO brave to come up to you and your dogs. It’s like safety is non-existent in their world and it’s all about fun, fun, fun. That or school across the road must be really boring for them. When I was a kid, I feared dogs and my parents would warn me to stay away from them for fear of getting bitten. My Western classmates were more bold, though. They didn’t mind running around with dogs in their yard and also in their house. That said, back then I don’t remember any of us going close to a dog that wasn’t ours. Even today here in Australia, I think that’s still the case. Me and a friend were at a dog-friendly park today, and we all watched from a distance different dogs humping each other and the owners chatting away. Some of them had kids, but the kids played on the sidelines but no where near the dogs.

    It’s interesting to hear that some men may not be warm to kid that aren’t their own. I’ve never thought about that. I’ve met some full grown men who don’t mind taking a few moments to say hi with kids that aren’t theirs – but that’s usually when it’s a kid of a family member, friend or acquaintance, never a random stranger.

    Having kids of one’s own (be it biologically or adoption) is a big commitment, and I think to truly be happy with raising kids is to want kids. Some of us are born with a desire to have kids one day, some of us might take longer to feel this, some of us not at all for a number of reasons. Hehe, situation resolved? I’m looking forward to reading 😀

    1. If you grow up with dogs, dogs hold no fear for you, even if you have a traumatic experience. I was bitten by a neighbor’s dog, but it didn’t faze me, because I’d had so many years of good experiences with my own canines. But some owners aren’t responsible, or ignore warning signs and it can be a nightmare for dogs and kids. I was lucky that my dogs were okay with those kids.

      Science is learning more and more about how kids need dirt for their immune systems to function properly, and dogs do dirt brilliantly. If you can manage dogs and kids, it’s good for both. But it’s A LOT of work. Did you ever have dog-envy as a child?

      1. I agree with you on not letting kids getting too clean. Bit of dirt and rolling around outside can do us good and it’s a good way to exercise too 😀

        I didn’t envy other dogs growing up. Never envied the dogs of my neighbours of friends. I do remember my parents wishing the dogs next door would shut up barking, though. The barking never really bothered me.

        1. Oh, I hate barking, even my own dogs. Noise you can’t control is one of the environmental factors that leads to unhappiness. Mine learned a command called “no bark!” and aren’t allowed to bark incessantly. Wish my neighbors had the same rule.

  6. American parents can talk to Chinese parents then, and ask how they do it. In China, 95% of kids (and adults) are scared of dogs. I’ve never had a child touch my dog without permission, and even the ones who asked permission were only 4 or 5 in the over 3 years I’ve had Nico. Many Chinese people seem to think dogs are feral human-flesh-eating tigers or something.

    PS. Do parents really accuse you of being a pedophile if you talk to a kid on the street? That’s kind of… too much.

    1. I don’t think they SAY pedophile, they just look at you accusingly and hurry their child away.

      You know, I thought about you and Nico today as a kid charged me, screaming “DOOOOOGGG!” I was like, “I bet Marta doesn’t have to deal with crap like this.” If parents in China are still using my in-law’s playbook, they probably tell their kids that dogs do eat human flesh.

      1. Yes, hahaha. In my case, children scream DOOOOOG and run away from me! And old people sometimes even cross the street to get all the distance possible between them and the killing machine that is a golden retriever.

  7. Haha, at least the kid wear the dogs out before it start chasing the postmen or street cleaner down thee lane! I must admit those kids are brave given the size of those big dogs. Then again I would have done the same when I was a kid. xD

  8. It’s such a sweet story and situation with the dogs and the kids. The sad part is we live in a society where you have to fear that you are putting yourself and Andy in danger for doing nothing but being neighborly.

    That aside, it’s great that you met the mom and that you figured out why Andy was upset! So interesting. Men, complicated creatures, after all. 😛

    1. Thanks, Lani. Maybe being neighborly with the kids makes up for yelling at the parents who block my driveway?

      You’re right. Men are complicated. Or at least as complicated as lions.

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