We need to talk about “We Need to Talk About Kevin”

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Jem didn’t get the memo that this isn’t supposed to be enjoyable

 

Present and future parents, here is the best advice I can ever offer you: Don’t read the book “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” At least, don’t read it if you have a wild imagination, tend to worry about things you can’t control or are prone to over-analyzing. Also, just don’t read it.

It’s a story about a boy who goes on a killing spree at his school, told in a series of letters from his mother to his (spoiler alert: dead) father. Pardon my language, but this kid is a real stinker. He’s a miserable baby, a diabolical child and a psychologically abusive teen. His mother beats herself up for not understanding him or loving him the way she thinks she should. Then he kills everyone, and the victims’ families blame her for being a bad mother. So she spends the rest of her days scraping hate graffiti off the side of her house and visiting him in jail, where he continues to mess with her head.

That Kevin. He’s a rascal.

I read this terrible tome years ago, but it continues to haunt me. So much so that when I became pregnant and found out I was having all boys, a little seed of fear sprouted inside me. What if I was cooking up three Kevins? I gobbled folic acid and DHA, hoping they would help me grow kind and empathetic brains. But in the back of my mind I wondered if I, too, would be scraping slurs off my house one day.

OK, so I know the odds are stacked against me having given birth to three murderous sociopaths, but I can’t help wondering sometimes. Problem is, kids this age don’t have much of a conscience, so it’s difficult to tell what is “Kevin” and what is “normal jerk toddler.”

Like this: Finn tries to club his brother with a Baby Einstein gadget, and I quickly kneel down, take both of his hands and firmly say, “No.” Some sort of calculation flickers across his face. His eyes narrow as he pulls his hands away from mine and tries to slap me. I catch his hand and lead him over to his brother so he can give him a hug, but he wrenches free and runs over to the bookshelf where he hits all of his toys while shooting me a malignant glare.

It’s obvious Finn is a psychopath.

Finn’s calm demeanor as he abuses everything around him has me half convinced that my worst fears have come true. But then there’s the other Finn, who runs to me from across the room with his arms outstretched and wraps himself around me. And the Finn who joyfully exclaims, “Bubba!” when he sees his brothers in the morning. And the Finn who giggles with delight when get to the end of “Pout Pout Fish” where everyone gets smooches. And the Finn who lays his head on my shoulder and sucks his thumb and twirls my hair. And the Finn who actually does go over and hug his brothers after hitting them in the face with something.

It’s obvious Finn is pretty great.

But now we need to talk about Bran, who just grabbed Jem by the hair, dragged him to the ground and stole his sippy cup.

Toddlers are barbarians. But as soon as you decide there are some serious behavioral issues going on, they show you that you’re wrong, that all of this is normal, that it’s going to be OK.

Bran can see that he’s broken his brother’s heart, and I watch him scan the room for Jem’s favorite toy—a baby Elmo. He finds it and brings it over to us. Jem, sobbing, takes it and clutches it to his chest. “Can you hug your brother?” I ask Bran. He leans over and wraps his arms around Jem, and Jem reaches up and holds onto Bran. Then Finn runs over to hug them both—or at least he tries to, but it ends up being more of a headbutt.

But there it is—the empathy. The first blush of brotherly love. Suddenly the idea that I would have to spend my golden years visiting these guys in prison seems a little more far-fetched. And just when I’m ready to pat myself on the back for eating all that DHA, I look over to see Jem humping baby Elmo on the floor.

Goodbye, Kevin.

Hello, Chris Hansen.

 

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