Monday, January 14, 2008

Little Boys and Keys

Over the weekend we bought our six year old, Justin, a new pair of tennis shoes. Included was a little gimmick miniature flashlight keychain put there by marketers to make sure a child will hound his parents to buy the shoes. In any case, he had fun with it on the way home in the back of the van. There was one thing that puzzled him, however. What was that little metal ring attached to the chain for? After we got home, Justin asked me the question. I responded that it was a keychain, and I proceeded to show him the little metal rings on my own keychain. Then he started in on how he wanted keys like Daddy. He also wanted two of those little key fobs just like Daddy. I told him those were for my car and the van and he didn’t need them until he was old enough to drive.

I thought it was over with, and it was just one of the hundreds of questions that a six year asks throughout the day. However, he came back to me later on Saturday and asked me again, “The next time you go to the store, will you buy me some keys?” He didn’t seem to grasp the concept that keys fit in some type of lock. So, I looked through my keychain and found a key that fit a lock that I had no idea where it was. He was excited to get a key for his keychain, but I made the mistake of chuckling and commenting to my wife that I thought it matched a lock that used to be on a friend’s trailer that had been stolen a couple of years ago. Justin had a confused look on his face. I hoped that I hadn’t crushed his imagination. Quickly I changed my tone and found another old house key that didn’t fit our current house and let him have it. Then I had a better idea. I went to the drawer and drew out a spare key for our current house. Of course, this tickled him. After I gave him the key, I followed it up with a lesson about how to open the door locks. He spent the next 30 minutes opening and closing the lock on the back door. Since we have church at our house, he also enjoyed the opportunity on the following day to show his friends his new house key.

I pondered what I saw in this. Why was this such a big deal to him? I have a few ideas why.

1) He got to “be like Daddy.”
Little boys have an innate desire to do manly things. Simply having a ring of keys in your pocket seems a manly thing to do since he’s always seen me with mine.

2) It was a “gadget.”
Performing a simple mechanical action of turning a key and watching the deadbolt go in and out provides hours of entertainment for an inquisitive mind who wants to know how things work.

3) It means being allowed to do something useful for the family.
Oftentimes when we come home at night after being in the van, the little ones will fall asleep. I usually have my arms full of children as I’m either carrying the baby seat carrier, holding my one year old sleeping daughter, or holding my 3 year old sleeping son. Justin realizes that he may be able to “come to the rescue” by unlocking the door when Daddy can’t get to his keys.

4) Lastly, it shows a level of trust that we’ve given him.
Having a key to the house means that he’s been given permission to unlock the doors at home. After all, we wouldn’t hand out house keys to just anyone who asks. So, it’s special that he is someone we would trust with this responsibility. We’re also teaching him that he needs to be responsible not to leave the keys outside so that anyone could come in.

5) It makes him feel more mature.
Being smack dab in the middle of seven children, Justin is in that “limbo” stage where he’s not sure if he identifies with the older children or the babies.

So, if you want to bring some joy into the life of your six year old, give him a set a keys, and make sure one of them is the key to the house.

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