My Son Has a Black Belt in Manipulation

Please allow me to introduce you to J.J.H a.k.a. Junior Jekyll and Hyde, otherwise known as my younger son, Sam* (*not his real name.) Sam is currently 7 years old and has the size and physique of a Hungarian wrestler. His favorite thing to do is beat up his brother (the one who has a yellow and black belt in karate), stuff the dog into unusual costumes and manipulate his mother’s emotions into balloon animal shapes.

Sam was three years old when I first realized that he might be manipulating me. The realization dawned as I left the room to regain control of myself because he was crying so much. I padded back in quickly (perhaps I’d left behind the hair shirt or cat o’nine tails for self-flagellation) and noticed that Sam had immediately stopped crying when I’d left the room. He looked up, saw me, and immediately started ostentatiously bawling again. I wish I had had an Oscar handy, as I would have awarded him with one then and there.

And yet Sam claims he has no interest in acting… Only in manipulation I conclude. He is a black-belt manipulator, and the gene comes from his father whose least preferred method of getting anyone to do something he wants is to ask for it directly. Sam and Wonder Dad play chess together for hours at a time, mainly because the little shit got too bored playing with me, as he beat me too easily. I am neither a planner, nor a strategizer. If anything takes longer than five minutes that is too long, unless we’re talking about sex… but sadly sometimes that’s all I get. Just. Kidding.

My verbal style is the same as my appearance – completely straight forward. Upon meeting me, I am exactly what you’d expect (an overly sensitive redhead with impulse control problems) and the more you know me the more you understand that I have no hidden agenda beyond trying to survive the day relatively intact. If I want something I’ll ask for it, if you’re annoying me, I’ll let you know and if that doesn’t work after some time, I will simply withdraw and give up on you. I have never spent any time or energy trying to “trick” you into doing anything except liking me, but even then I’m pathetically transparent, like a sad clown whose whiteface is runny from sweat.

Perhaps Sam will have an interest in research, as he dissects me like a frog, accurately finding my liver, kidneys and gall bladder (gall, get it?) and summarily removing them, all in the name of science, of course. Because he has been in possession of advanced communication skills since we sent him to that damn progressive pre-school, he has learned to harness these skills as weapons.

For example, the paradigm of non-violent communication pioneered by Marshall Rosenberg “When you do X, I feel Y, I really value Z, would you be willing to try Z in future?” in my son’s diabolical hands becomes “When you say that, it hurts my feewings! You’re always hurting my feewings! You don’t like me, no one likes me, you love that dog more than me…” etc. etc. And when I try to respond, he escalates further to, “I’m stupid…” with or without carefully thought out “love-taps” to his own head. When I asked the no nonsense head of same pre-school what to do about this behavior (this was four years ago) she said, “Tell him to hit himself harder.”

Hmmm. The problem with that, is that I have been known to self-injure in the past (I wasn’t a cutter or anything – too squeamish) so when he goes into “love-tap mode,” (even though it’s not in private like I did, but right in front of me so he’s likely just trying to get a reaction) I am incredibly triggered. And you cannot say to a seven year old, “When you hit yourself, I feel homicidal/suicidal. I value and have spent a lot of time and money on my mental health, would you be willing to change your personality slightly to accommodate that?”

If Sam was a weather pattern he would be a tornado, typically not lasting very long (twenty minutes max) causing mass destruction in his wake, and leaving as quickly as it arrived. Hurricane Sam bounces back from his tantrums/episodes with disturbing amnesia while I am left rattled, to try and pick up the pieces of my shattered personality and try to figure out where they went before.

But alas, Junior Jekyll has already feasted on my innards, smacking his lips at the delicious kidney pie (“Those are my kidneys,” I want to yell) with a little mom-liver pâté, washed down with some refreshing gall bladder juice (“Ah 1974, excellent choice, sir.”) Sam is satiated once more, reassured that he can still make his mother react however he pleases, because knowing that she simply loves him is not enough. What good is love, if you cannot hold the puppet strings and make mommy dance? Dance, mommy, dance!

My mother’s greatest wish has come true, that one day I would grow up and have a  child who would make me suffer as I made her suffer (for maximum dramatic impact, this should be said with a Russian accent) and yet according to her I was a perfectly delightful child until the age of fourteen. I must have been one bitch on wheels as a teenager, because my payback has come early. Aren’t I supposed to have seven more good years?

Master Hyde is highly intelligent; his light shines so brightly, that everywhere he goes, people magnetize to him. Two nights ago, we were at the local shopping center and a tourist couple from Iran asked my seven year old to take their picture. I’ve never seen anyone ask a child to take their photo, especially anyone who did not speak the native language. And Sam a.k.a Prince Charming took the photo, and the composition was perfect, because he is effortlessly good at almost everything – sports, and math, and socializing and talking and dancing and on and on.

What he is not so good at yet, is managing his huge emotions on a daily basis, so when Hydey drinks the magic potion, suddenly Jekyll Jr. appears, intent on using mommy as a lightning rod for all the disappointment, fear and insecurity he has never (even as a baby) dared show the world. I guess I should be grateful that he entrusts me with this fragile side of himself. Sometimes I just have trouble accessing my spiritual side, the one who is “grateful for the lesson, Namaste.”

My biggest fear is that if my son needs someone to help him manage his feelings, he has come to the wrong establishment. Not only was science my weakest subject, but also – the only potion I’ve ever found to change me into, and out of Frankenstein is what I go to 12 step meetings for, and nothing has ever worked as well since. Fact is mama’s a basket case and the only thing she can help him with, is more wicker.


  1. On a serious note..I have one of those..and it ain’t changing. But now I have relief. Seperate domiciles…I don’t answer the door and don’t take his calls. Thank God he has a replacement..Girlfriend,,If I had to do it all over again..Therapy…for him…,

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