The Rockwood Files: The Sting of Fear

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Fear is a funny thing. It divides people into distinct groups – the “Hey let’s go to the haunted house” group and the “There’s no way I’m going in there group.” With Halloween fast approaching, it’s good to know what group you’re in and why.

On our vacation last month, we planned an excursion that sounded like a fun family adventure. During our visit to a beach in the Bahamas, we swam with stingrays – all of which had their stingers removed and were tourist-friendly. The stingray trainers were with us the whole time, so there really wasn’t anything to be afraid of.

Even though my brain knew all of this, I let out a frightened yelp the first time one of the big stingrays glided past and rubbed against my leg underwater. Tom, on the other hand, was much more at ease and even fed the stingrays a snack provided by the trainers.

The kids had distinct reactions to the initial fear, too. Seven-year-old Jack was at first unnerved by the stingrays but desensitized himself by staying in the water, inching closer and closer until he was comfortable enough to hold a large stingray in his arms with the help of a trainer. (He said it felt like a big, grey slimy pancake. I took his word for it.)

Four-year-old Kate never warmed up to the rays the way her brother did but stayed in the water and watched them swim around us, as long as her dad was holding her above the grey gliders at a safe distance.

Nine-year-old Adam’s reaction amused me the most. He has what some people call an “old soul”, which basically means that most of the time he is like a 45-year-old man in a 9-year-old’s body. He walked out into the water fearlessly and stood motionless for a few moments while the stingrays swarmed around us and the other tourists. Then he calmly walked back out of the water toward the pier. I followed him to make sure he was okay. When I asked him if he was afraid, he said very matter-of-factly, “Well, I just don’t like things under the water nosing into my business.”

I knew exactly how he felt. The stingrays were fascinating to watch and see up close, but I couldn’t get comfortable with those unfamiliar creatures bumping into me under the surface. Every time I saw one of them coming toward me, I had a flashback to the 1980s when I saw the movie Jaws. I couldn’t even take a bath afterward for weeks without constantly scanning the soapy water for signs of a shark fin.

Is it rational? No, not even a little. But fear needs no rationale. It exists without logic or reality. It gets its energy from the human mind, which can conjure up all kinds of scary things that wouldn’t happen in a million years.

I’m guessing that the people who fall into the “Hey, let’s go to the haunted house” group are the type of thrill-seekers who thrive on the adrenaline rush that comes from not knowing what’s lurking right around the corner. Maybe it makes them feel alive. Maybe it makes them feel brave to conquer it. I wouldn’t know.

I’m the type who likes to know what’s around the corner or gliding toward me just under the water’s surface. Fear is fine for some people, but, to quote a wise 9-year-old I know, I’d rather not have it “nosing into my business.”

From my family to yours, here’s hoping you have a safe and happy Halloween.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here.