When I was seven, my little world was perfect. Cereal box perfect. I lived in a pretty country town in Wales with my Mum, Dad and my two brothers. Everything seemed safe and friendly, and life was predictable. Most days my Dad left for work with his briefcase just before nine and finished up around six. He also came home for his lunch. My Mum minded the house, and was always there for me and my brothers. Grandparents were visited regularly and no-one seemed to die until they were very old. In fact bad things only happened far away in other countries.
When I was seven my primary school closed down and I had to start in another school across town. It was too far to walk, and in those innocent days no-one thought it odd that a seven year old would get the bus home from school. So every afternoon I said goodbye to my friends and crossed the road to the bus top swinging my satchel on my arm. I enjoyed the short bus ride up the hill. I felt quite the grown up.
But then one day something happened. One day the bus did not stop at my stop. I can still remember the overwhelming panic as the stop receded into the distance and the houses flashed by the windows. The tears and the kindness of strangers who offered comfort and tissues. I wondered would the bus ever stop? Where was it taking me?
In fact it came to a halt a few minutes later. At the next stop. All I had to do was walk down the hill home, instead of up.
But even so, it was the most terrifying thing that happened to me when I was seven.
Luckily for me there was someone waiting for me when I came home to calm and cuddle me. But what if there had been no-one?
That day flashed through my mind as soon as I heard about the new Irish Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2012, which will eventually stop the one-parent family payment when the youngest child in the family turns seven. Lone parents will have to sign on and look for work, for many that will mean poorly paid and part-time work which may not cover the cost of child-care, and so kids as young as 7 could be home alone.
Could I have done that? I don't think so.
When Angel was seven, she seemed to be living the cereal box dream too: she was lively and sporty with lots of friends. She loved gymnastics, the Spice Girls and her barbie dolls, and was a proud big sister to Smiley, no longer a sick little baby, but small, portable and very cute.
How would Angel have coped at home alone at 7 if I was working and unable to afford childcare? What dangers would she have faced? What noises would have scared her? What if she blew a fuse and the lights went out? If some stranger came to the door and kept on knocking. How would she feel, how would she cope? And why should she have to? The Irish Constitution claims to cherish all Irish children equally. Exactly how this new law will help cherish the children of lone parents I have no idea.
I am lucky. I am a lone parent, but all my children are older now, and my family will not be affected by this. But many families will be. And perhaps there will be many more frightened seven year olds, just like me, but with no-one to comfort them.
Written in support of the #7istooyoung campaign being organised by OPEN, the Irish organisation for lone parents.