Picture this. The year is 1987. A young girl leaves her rural semi-detached house. She is aged nine and wearing a green and grey polyester block striped shell suit with white trainer boots. She jumps onto her pink Raleigh mountain bike and cycles off to see her friend. Along pavements, up and down alleyways, crunching along the old railway path. She arrives. She plays.
This was me. This is what I always did. I would pick up the phone, call my friend and then cycle across the village to see her. We would play out all day long. In woods and fields and parks and sometimes abandoned houses. Laughing, chatting and joking about. With the wind in our hair, without a care in the world, we were free.
Fast forward twenty eight years and that little girl is now a mother herself. I am the proud owner of a three year old toddler who fills me with a mixture of joy and horror on a daily basis.
Before I became a mum, I thought I knew what fear was. I believed I had felt it and experienced its debilitating force. I now know I was wrong. I would give anything to go back to the time when my biggest fear was sleeping through my alarm and arriving late for work. Or forgetting to pay my landlord his rent on time.
When you become a mother the fear factor in life magnifies itself tenfold. It starts on day one when suddenly you are left holding a life, a real human being and for some reason everyone expects you to know what to do. But you don't because no matter how many pregnancy books and early childhood manuals you buy and devour, no one can prepare you for your own child. That individual who is part of you and only you really know what to do with. It just takes a while to work that one out.
Since my son was born I have been suffering from the fear factor. I find myself questioning my actions and worrying about nonsense. It started when he was a baby. How do I feed him? Should he sleep on his front? Do I wake him for a dream feed? Baby led or puree? What if he chokes? Should I do a first aid course? Which nursery should I choose? The questions went on and on.
I thought it was just a baby thing until he started to move and walk. Then I was fearful about him opening cupboard doors and bumping his head and falling down the stairs. Do I buy him a rein? Should I safety catch my kitchen?
It recently dawned on me when I started to worry about primary schools and catchment areas that the fears of a mother are unjustifiably endless. I don't know if it's because we live in such a health and safety conscious world but every mother I know seems to be living in dread. Questioning her decisions. Wondering if she has selected the right option. Anxious that she has made the wrong call.
We have so much choice now. If my child has a rash? I Google it. Find a picture. Self-diagnose. If you've ever tried this you will know it is a dangerous pastime. But it is also extremely satisfying. I only have to think about a potential problem and type it in and bang there is a mums' site where someone else is experiencing the same nightmare. 'My toddler, aged three, is having outrageous tantrums.' I can read about what to do and realise we are relatively normal, experiencing the same terrible mood swings as everybody else.
The problem is this information, these comparisons, they are so readily available. We can find out the answer to our fears simply by tapping our phones on a whim. But worryingly this mass of knowledge, these gadgets to keep our children safe have the potential to make us even more fearful.
Personally I think it's time for me to look away from my laptop. To stop posing questions to cyberspace and believing that throwing money at an issue is the right solution. I want my son to be safe. I want him to be protected from bad people. But I can't control every situation and I don't want to be that mother who keeps her child indoors because she is scared of what might happen.
1987 was a different time. We didn't have the internet or smartphones or tablets. But we did have roads and kitchen cupboards and stairs and flashers in the woods. Our mothers? They let us play out. We breathed the fresh, crisp air and played with our friends in the rain. We were a little bit bold sometimes but we were living. Untying ourselves momentarily from the apron strings and experiencing the world for ourselves.
If this is what I want for my son I need to be brave, cast off the shackles of the modern fear factor and be a more courageous mummy.