We Need to talk About Kevin. Boy was I excited when my book club decided on this one for our December read. Couldn’t have picked a more uplifting and heartwarming novel for the holidays if we actually tried.
Okay, yes, a bit of sarcasm there, but I was excited to read Lionel Shriver’s dark novel about a mother’s journey to understand her teenaged son after he goes on a school shooting rampage if for no other reason than I am a child of Columbine. In that I was a high school senior when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on their shooting spree that left 13 people dead, and I remember the disembodied shock of that tragedy as acutely as any other turning moment in my lifetime. I sat in stunned silence in my British Lit class as the news covered the horror, and I saw, as it happened, the moment when survivor Patrick Ireland tumbled out of the library window into the arms of the SWAT team officers below. I’ll never forget that … for as long as I live.
Anyway, We Need to Talk About Kevin. Yes, I have wanted to read this for some time, and I wasn’t disappointed. If anything, I was pleasantly surprised to find the novel isn’t about the eponymous son as much as it is about his mother trying to reconcile her decision to have a child when she knew, deep down, she never wanted children in the first place. Did this decision to have Kevin in spite of her own desires affect her son’s nature? Did he become a savage killer because he somehow knew his mother never really wanted him? Those are the questions, I found, were at the heart of We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Shriver’s skilled handling at addressing them has only reiterated one of my longstanding soapbox diatribes.
Which is the social stigma associated with “going against” certain lifestyle decisions.
Please allow me to elaborate. I do love getting up on my soapbox after all. In this great nation of ours, all peoples residing here are expected to make four lifestyle decisions. And those decisions are:
- Go to college
- Get married
- Buy a house
- Have children
Now, let me preface by saying there is absolutely nothing wrong with these choices. That is the beauty of “choice” – those who want to achieve these noble ends should be proud of their desire to do so, and go for it with all the gusto that comes with pursuing a dream. My diatribe comes in with the expectation that everyone should want these things. Everyone should want to go to college. Everyone should want to get married, and buy a house, and have children.
And if you don’t want one of these things, then there is “something wrong” with you. You don’t want to go to college? You’re a failure in some way. You don’t want to get married? Then you won’t share your life with anyone. You’ll be alone. You won’t have a family. You don’t want children? Your life will be so unfulfilled.
These are the reactions that come when you decide not to do one of these four things. A social stigma that something is wrong with you because you don’t want to go to college, or get married, or buy a house. Because, come on, everyone wants those things!
But here’s the thing: no, everyone does not want them. Some people don’t want to go to college because the book learnin’ is not their thing. They are active, hands-on, and creative, and sitting in a classroom is tantamount to watching grass grow. And there is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with wanting to pursue a hands-on profession, like electrician, construction, plumbing, mechanic, etc…, that may require a vocational program but not a four-year degree (and, at the same time, student loan debt in the tens of thousands). In a land where the proclamations are always pursue your dream and reach for the stars, why is it wrong for a kid who has always loved building things to pursue a career in construction? If that is his dream? Why is it wrong for a car nut to become a mechanic? Why is it wrong for Joe Outdoors, who hates being cooped up inside, to work as a gardener? Or on a grounds maintenance crew?
In other words, I have a hard time understanding why pursuing a dream is okay only when it requires a four-year degree.
I also have a hard time understanding why every adult should want to have children. I’m going to put it out there: J and I do not want kids. We are not planning on having them. And I know that we will spend the rest of our lives answering the questions, why don’t you guys want children? Aren’t you worried that you’ll feel empty without them?
Here’s the short answer to those two questions: we don’t want children because we have other goals in our lives we want to achieve, and these are goals we don’t want to sacrifice for kids. We’re just not interested enough in being parents to give up things we really want for ourselves. And no, we aren’t worried about feeling empty because we’re happy. We’re aware. We know we don’t want kids, and we aren’t going to do what Lionel Shriver’s main character, Eva, did in the novel: try out parenting (because it is expected) by becoming a parent. We would rather be happy and childless than be miserable parents who had kids because everyone else thinks we should want them.
And that raises my ultimate questions: why can’t we all decide, on our own, what we want for our lives? Why are we supposed to, and expected to, want certain things?
So I say this. Since there will unlikely ever be an end to these lifestyle expectations, then I encourage those “rebels” out there to keep pursuing the life you want. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should and should not want. And don’t make decisions because it is what others expect of you. Because after all, you may end up with a sociopath for a son… just like Eva did in the novel We Need to Talk About Kevin.