A Household Word: Oh-Key, No-Key

By Carol Band

I'm learning that if you give a house key to a 12-year-old boy, he will lose it.

"Mooooommmmm have you seen the key?"

The key in question opens the back door to my neighbors' house. My son, Lewis, is their dog walker. This means that every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday after school, he is expected to feed, walk and (ahem) clean up after their huge, slobbering St. Bernard/shepherd mix. Today is Thursday. It is his third day on the job.

When my neighbors asked if I knew a kid who might be interested in earning some extra cash, I volunteered Lew. Not because he is extremely mature, but because he is extremely motivated - by money. I figured that walking the dog might teach him some important life lessons - not only about the value of a dollar, but also about responsibility and honoring commitments.

Turns out, it's me who is having the educational experience.

I'm learning that if you give a house key to a 12-year-old boy, he will lose it.

OK, maybe he hasn't actually lost it, but in the four days that he has had this job, I have found the key on the front porch steps, under the floor mats of the minivan, inside his lunch sack and at the bottom of the washing machine.

What did I expect? After all, he is flesh of my own forgetful flesh. Heck, I can't keep track of my own wad of keys that are attached to a Borders membership card, a tiny flashlight and a remote gizmo that opens the trunk of the Taurus wagon we traded in two years ago.

Frankly, if I didn't spend significant portions of each day looking for my car keys, I probably would have had time to devise a system for keeping my kid organized. Maybe I would have built a handy key rack for the hallway or knotted a gimp lanyard or scoured the discount stores for a key safe that fools burglars by pretending to be a rock. Then again, if I didn't dash around the house searching for the keys, I'd never get any exercise.

"Mooooommmmm I still can't find it!" Lewis wails from the kitchen.

He follows me as I search his lunch sack, peek into the bottom of the washing machine, scan the front porch and lift up the floor mats of the minivan.

"Where were you the last time you had the key?" I probe.

"I don't remember."

We - and by "we," I mean "I" - work up a sweat combing through the entire house, including the attic and the basement. I am too frustrated to appreciate the terrific aerobic benefits of this search.

"What were you wearing?" I pant.

"I don't remember," he says miserably.

We - and by "we," I mean "I" - dismantle the laundry room. There, at the bottom of the hamper, deep in the pocket of the dirty jeans he wore on Tuesday, is a piece of linty gum, 13 cents, a dirty shoelace and THE KEY!

"We gotta figure out a way to not lose it," I say to Lewis, taking the dirty shoelace, making a loop and tying on the key. I tell you, I'm learning.

"Wear this," I say, slipping the loop over my son's head. "Never take it off." I felt like Bilbo Baggins entrusting young Frodo with the Ring.

"Mom," says Lewis, fingering the key around his neck, "why can't we just drive to the hardware store and have a bunch of extra keys made? Then it won't matter so much if one gets lost. I can even pay for them with my dog-walking money."

Gee, that sounds almost mature and kind of responsible. Maybe I'm not the only one learning something from this dog-walking job.

"Great idea," I agree. "Let's go."

And I dash upstairs to look for my car keys.