Excerpt: 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'

Meanwhile, no amount of shouting was resolving the diaper crisis. In a rare inversion of our roles, you were apt to regard the problem as all very internally complicated, and I thought it was simple: We wanted him to use the toilet, so he wouldn't. Since we weren't about to stop wanting him to use the toilet, I was at a loss. You doubtless found my usage of the word war preposterous. But in corralling Kevin to the changing table — now small for the purpose; his legs dangled over its raised flap — I was often reminded of those scrappy guerrilla conflicts in which underequipped, ragtag rebel forces manage to inflict surprisingly serious losses on powerful armies of state. Lacking the vast if unwieldy arsenal of the establishment, the rebels fall back on cunning. Their attacks, while often slight, are frequent, and sustained aggravation can be more demoralizing over time than a few high-casualty spectaculars. At such an ordnance disadvantage, guerrillas use whatever lies at hand, sometimes finding in the material of the everyday a devastating dual purpose. I gather that you can make bombs, for example, out of methanating manure. For his part, Kevin, too, ran a seat-of-the-pants operation, and Kevin, too, had learned to form a weapon from shit.

Oh, he submitted to being changed placidly enough. He seemed to bask in the ritual and may have inferred from my growing briskness a gratifying embarrassment, for swabbing his tight little testicles when he was nearly six was beginning to feel risqué.

If Kevin enjoyed our trysts, I did not. I have never been persuaded that even an infant's effluents smell precisely "sweet"; a kindergartner's feces benefit from no such reputation. Kevin's had grown firmer and stickier, and the nursery now exuded the sour fug of subway tunnels colonized by the homeless. I felt sheepish about the mounds of nonbiodegradable Pampers we contributed to the local landfill. Worst of all, some days Kevin seemed deliberately to hold his intestines in check for a second strike. If no Leonardo of the crayon world, he had a virtuoso's command of his sphincter. Mind, I'm setting the table here, but hardly excusing what happened that July. I don't expect you to be anything but horrified. I'm not even asking your forgiveness; it's late for that. But I badly need your understanding.

Kevin graduated from kindergarten in June, and we were stuck with one another all summer. (Listen, I got on Kevin's nerves as much as he got on mine.) Despite Miss Fabricant's modest successes with Drano illustrations, the Montessori method was not working wonders in our home. Kevin had still not learned to play. Left to entertain himself, he would sit like a lump on the floor with a moody detachment that turned the atmosphere of the whole house oppressive. So I tried to involve him in projects, assembling yarn and buttons and glue and scraps of colorful fabric in the playroom for making sock puppets. I'd join him on the carpet and have a cracking good time myself, really, except in the end I would have made a nibbling rabbit with a red felt mouth and big floppy blue ears and drinking-straw whiskers, and Kevin's arm would sport a plain knee-high dipped in paste. I didn't expect our child to necessarily be a crafts wunderkind, but he could at least have made an effort.

I also tried to give him a jump on first grade by tutoring him on the basics. "Let's work on our numbers!" I'd propose.

"What for."

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