L watched a nature documentary the other day at his grandparents’ house. In the footage a stingray attacked a predator with its tail in the way that stingrays have found it effective to do. The violence of the whiplash defence mechanism of the creature shocked him a bit at the time. He was visibly shaken by it afterwards. Since then he has had a repeated anxiety around bedtime that the stingray is under his bed and will get him while he’s asleep.
His fear is such that, initially, he had difficulty expressing its magnitude. The best he could manage was : “I’m scared of bedtime”. And for all our reassurances that stingrays can’t live on land and that they live in sea water a long way away, it is easy to see that the fear, being irrational, cannot be assuaged by reasoned arguments such as these.
As an avowed scaredy cat, I recognise his fear, its irrational and pervasive quality. I wonder whether a tendency to be affected by frightening images might not be hereditary. I also know that the only thing that will make it go away is time, which brings with it displacement by larger, uglier fears.
Fears of the stingray disturbed his sleep for a couple of nights, to the extent that I swapped beds with him and he slept in our room with his mother. Lying there in his bed, which is a foot too short at least, I started thinking about what Freud might say about the stingray fear. It certainly would fit into an oedipal scenario that displaces the father in the mother’s bed. Is the stingray actually me?
It wasn’t necessarily this that kept me awake, but the repeating loop of the stingray theme tune droning away inside my head.