It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a whirling dervish of destruction, it’s a screaming mimi (whatever that is!), it’s…THE INSTIGATOR!
Angrier than a wet cat, louder than a cackle of crows, looking for trouble wherever he goes, the INSTIGATOR seeks a response from YOU, his mother, his favorite plaything, his puppet on a string, and the louder he can make you scream, the more nerves he can work, the higher he can drive your frustration so that you finally burst, well – the better he has done his job. Deep down he has some other motive for this behavior – be it attention seeking, proprioceptive input, attachment problems, mood fluctuations, boredom…but the motivations don’t matter because the end result is the same: the INSTIGATOR will do whatever it takes to get a reaction from those who care for him, the bigger the reaction the better.
And although it seems that when the INSTIGATOR appears, his normally mild-mannered (?) alias has gone away…you guessed it, the INSTIGATOR and my son, Little J. are one and the same!
(A quick aside, in case you aren’t a regular reader of this blog or don’t have my life story memorized: Little J, 9, has a variety of neurological atypicalities, has been diagnosed with ADHD, PDD, ODD, SPD, takes medication for ‘mood disorder of a cyclical nature (bipolar?) and most probably all of this is related to FASD – Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, which he’s been evaluated for next month. All of that points to big problems regulating his behavior, although some days are much, much better than others. Today is not one of those days.)
And today the INSTIGATOR must have important business to do because he has completely subsumed his alias! The INSTIGATOR is out and ready to get to work!
Phew! It was hard work carrying that metaphor that far, even though it’s completely how I feel about the INSTIGATOR that lives inside my child, not to be confused with DESTRUCTO, who also rears his ugly head from time to time. DESTRUCTO, though annoying and expensive, is actually easier to deal with than the INSTIGATOR as the former takes his energy out on things, and the latter focuses on people.
Take what just went down in my house in the last hour, for example.
Here’s the scene: Little J and his brother are watching TV. Looney Tunes, I believe. Little J slept the whole night and woke up late, breakfasting on pizza. He had his (stimulant and mood) medication at 9. It lasts about 4.5 hours. This is relevant because what happened next happened within the window of medication effectiveness, and therefore can’t be blamed on meds wearing off or meds not taking effect yet, which also cause the INSTIGATOR to appear.
At 12:00 I tell the boys to turn off the TV. Wait, back up. At 11:30 I tell them the TV needs to go off in half an hour. At 11:45 I tell them 15 minutes. At 12:00 I say to turn it off and IT BEGINS.
The INSTIGATOR makes his appearance. With a bang.
“What’d you do that for, you son-of-a-bitch!” he yells at his brother, who’s switched off the TV.
“Mom said to turn it off.”
“NO SHE DIDN’T”
“Yes she did.”
“Yes, I did,” I say, thinking that Little J may not have heard me.
“Well, you’re a BIG FAT BITCH!” Little J screams.
I sigh. I wait a beat. Sometimes it’s best not to react. Little J and his brother move into the dining room where they have several Lego projects set up.
I retreat to my computer, located in the office next to the dining room. I have several work projects I’m trying to get done. I type one sentence and I hear bloodcurdling screams.
‘You’re an ASSHOLE. I HATE YOU! WHY’D YOU DO THAT?”
I go in the room. Little J has a steak knife (where’d that come from? Note to self: lock up steak knives) and he’s waving it around, a safe distance from his brother so I know he’s not actually going to try anything, but still – a bad scene.
I confiscate the knife. “What’s going on?”
“HE WRECKED MY LEGOS!” Little J says.
“You were throwing them at me,” his brother explains.
“NO I WASN’T!” I have no doubt that Little J was, in fact, throwing Legos at his brother, but I also have no doubt that Little J sees no connection between his own annoying behavior and his brother’s reaction.
“You need to calm down,” I say.
“I DON’T CARE! I HATE YOU! I WISH I LIVED SOMEWHERE ELSE! I’M GOING OUTSIDE!”
“Great,” I say. “Why don’t you hit some nails while I make you lunch.”
“I WANT PIZZA!”
“I don’t have pizza. I’m making grilled cheese.”
“I HATE YOUR STUPID GRILLED CHEESE! YOU MAKE IT BAD!”
“Fine, but that’s what I’m making.”
“I HATE LUNCH I’M NOT EATING IT I WANT TO GO SWIMMING!”
“You’re going swimming tomorrow with Grandma.”
“I HATE SWIMMING.”
“Oh brother,” I mutter. Call me slow, but I’ve finally figured out what’s going on. Grumpy Little J has made the switch to the INSTIGATOR and there’s not much I can do about it except to try to get away from him. “Look,” I say. “Go outside. Go hit nails. Climb a tree. Do something to calm yourself down. I’ll call you when the grilled cheese is ready.”
“I HATE GRILLED CHEESE.”
“You don’t have to eat it. But go outside.”
“NO NO NO NO NO!”
At this point I grab him by the arm and march him out the back door. “Go away from me. Now.” I am really frustrated. This behavior can go on for hours and not much can stop it except the numbing power of TV, and since he’s already watched 3 hours at this point I’m reluctant to turn the set back on.
I shut the door and wait a moment to see if he’ll push it back open, slam something into the kitchen window (he hasn’t broken it yet, but I know the day is coming), or try to start something new. But it doesn’t happen and I go to the stove to work on the grilled cheese.
After a few minutes I start to worry. This is my constant state when Little J is out of eye- or ear-shot, since I never know what he’s doing and I can’t trust that he won’t destroy something, get into his dad’s tools, tie the dogs to a tree, or leave our 2-acre fenced-in yard without telling me, which is absolutely not allowed, but it still happens..
Sure enough, when I step outside to check on him 2 minutes later, he’s gone. I walk out onto our rural road and peer up and down the street, wondering which neighbor I should call (for the 3rd time this week) to see if they’ve seen him. Then I spot him coming out of one of my neighbor’s houses.
“Come here, now,” I say.
“Why? Why? I don’t’ want to! I’m scared of you!”
“Scared of me?” This is a hot-button phrase, and he knows it. “SCARED OF ME? YOU KNOW WHO WAS SCARED? ME! WHEN YOU LEAVE THE YARD AND DON’T TELL ME WHERE YOU’RE GOING I GET REALLY, REALLY SCARED!”
“Shut up,” he says, deadpan. “You’re an idiot.”
I grab his arm and march him inside. “To your room,” I say. And miracle upon miracle, he goes. “I’m setting the timer. 15 minutes.”
And he stays. 15 blessed minutes. 15 minutes where he’s not screaming at anyone.
But then the buzzer goes off and he comes downstairs…and it starts all over again.
Adrienne Ehlert Bashista lives in central North Carolina with her husband and 2 boys, ages 9 and 12. She is a contributor and co-editor to Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories. To read all of Adrienne’s posts on this blog, please click here.