The Rockwood Files: Fear of falling

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

A few weeks ago, a weird thing happened as I carried a bin of holiday decorations from our house to the storage closet. The cumbersome box blocked the view of my feet. But who needs to see her feet when walking around her own house, right?

As it turns out, maybe I do. Because I missed a step leading onto our back porch. In a split second, I felt the panic of an imminent fall – like the moment you feel yourself hovering at the top of a roller coaster’s steepest hill.

Then, just as quickly, I recovered my footing, narrowly averting a headlong dive onto the hard, slate tile of the back porch. I sat the big box down with shaky hands, knowing I’d dodged an accident by the thinnest of margins. I breathed a sigh of relief and whispered a little “thank you” to the guardian angel who must’ve been watching my back that day.

That’s when I realized I’ve moved into a distinctly different phase of life. For the first time in 46 years, I felt afraid to fall.

This is brand new for me. As a kid, I never once backed down from anything that looked fun for fear of falling. The public swimming pool’s highest diving board? No problem. Jumping out of a swing at the height of its arc? Watch me fly. It wasn’t just that I didn’t think I’d have an accident. It was also that I figured, even if I did, I’d simply get back up. No biggie.

As a teenager, the only time the risk of a fall gave me pause was when I considered the social embarrassment of a possible face-plant in public. I worried about my ego but not my body.

But that near-miss while hauling around a bin of Christmas décor? That was different. I looked down at the stone-cold floor and knew how bad it could have been.

My middle-aged brain filled in what might’ve happened: Oh my gosh, that was close. That would’ve really hurt. Major damage. Probably blood. I would’ve had to go to the Emergency Room, which is packed during the holidays. I could’ve broken my arm! Or a collarbone! Or my face! Can you break face bones? I bet you can. What if I’d knocked out my front teeth? Then I’d have to get emergency dental surgery. And there’s no way insurance would cover all of it. Not to mention all the trips to the chiropractor or a physical therapist. Oh, thank God I didn’t fall.

At a certain age (and perhaps it’s different for everyone) you begin to realize that sometimes people don’t just pop back up after a fall. You begin to sense that a bad fall would not only hurt you physically but would also cost a ton of time, money and hassle you just can’t spare.

And the humiliating cherry on top of the aging sundae would be admitting to people that you hurt yourself when you tripped over a step in your own house, versus a more glamorous scenario like taking a tumble while skiing.

As a middle-aged mother of three, I’m no stranger to the very real effects of gravity. Cosmetically speaking, it’s scary in more ways than one.

But now it’s alarming in a different way. Physically, I’m not as resilient as the 10-year-old girl who routinely climbed our backyard tree and swung out of it holding onto nothing but a water hose my dad had fashioned into a tree swing. Time and experience have taught me I’m not as unbreakable as I once believed.

But I still want to have fun. I still want to seize the day. But if it’s not too much to ask, I’d also really like to stay vertical.

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.