Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Ezzo Reign of Terror

Before I continue with my story, I need to go ahead and give a more in depth description of what I encountered next. I call it The Ezzo Reign of Terror.

I didn't embark on parenthood with a lot of philosophies or systems under my belt. I didn't want them. All it really took me was a few nights, post c-section, of sitting up trying to nurse a newborn before I realized that it was the pits. So I pulled my baby in the bed next to me. She wanted to nurse. I wanted to sleep. It was a win-win for everybody. I didn't go around pushing co-sleeping and the family bed as a philosophy. It was just what worked for us. I thought that was what parenting was about.

I have never been a rigid parent by any means. It has never been my style. It isn't in my genetic code. Kid after kid blasted on to the scene and we just sort of muddled through. Parenthood was hard and I often felt I was in over my head but, by and large, I figured that's what parenthood was about.

Early in parenthood I read an article in a parenting magazine (a Christian parenting magazine, no less) where older, empty nest parents were asked what they would change about parenting if they were to do it all over again. The answers were things like "I'd say 'yes' more often" and "I would pick my fights" and "I wouldn't major on the minors." These all seems like sensible things to me. Don't sweat the small stuff. Leave room for growth and personal decision making. Don't get caught up in hyper-control. Sounded wise and reasonable enough to me.

Well, a few weeks after the birth of my third child, the entire family went to watch my husband play a softball game with our church's team. The game went long and my then 2.5 year-old, highly emotional toddler started to melt down. She wanted to go to the car and I wanted her to just sit in my lap on the ground until the game was over. She fussed a bit but I didn't give in to her whining. I was actually quite pleased with myself for being so calm so recently post-partum and standing my ground while being gentle with my daughter. James Dobson would have been proud. Then it happened. Another mom spoke.

"Ginny, have you heard about that new parenting class they are teaching at church? I think you should take it. You would find it really helpful."

I. Was. Crushed. The Ezzo Reign of Terror had begun.

For those of you fortunate enough to be totally oblivious to what I am talking about, let me illuminate you. Gary Ezzo was a dude out in California at John MacArthur's church who was a self-proclaimed parenting expert with no training whatsoever in medicine or psychology or child development but had, according to my husband, a PhD in self-righteousness. To be fair, his wife was, or had been, a nurse, striking horror in the hearts of responsible, reasonable RNs across the country.

Ezzo took it upon himself to write up an entire parenting curriculum for churches and named it the most presumptuous of names possible: "Growing Kids God's Way." Because Gary Ezzo apparently had his own hotline to the Almighty, I suppose. It sounds arrogant. It sounds crazy. But people ate. it. up.

Some of his advice was decent. Some of it was insane. But what was so very hideous about it all was the assumption that his way was the right way because it was God's way and he twisted and perverted scripture to back it up.

Back in the very early days of the internet my husband would go online at work and look up info on him. He came across a comment thread hundreds of comments long about high chair etiquette. I exploded. How dare this man shrink the Kingdom of God down to high chair etiquette!

It gained a foothold in our church. People raved about the classes. Others glanced disapprovingly at me nursing my baby when he fussed and they gushed about their sleep training schedules. Formerly free spirited toddlers were corralled and trained and stepped to the orders.

It took over entire churches. I had a friend at another church who was told that they didn't know if they wanted her baby in the nursery if she was not going to put him on the Ezzo schedule.

The overall effect that the Ezzo reign had was what you find in any sort of legalism. Those who could get with the program and do it right and found that it worked for their child grew arrogant and self-righteous and those who tried and failed crumbled in despair.

Being who I am, even with my very strong opinions and knowing in my head that this man's proclamations were bullshit, self-doubt took over. I was swimming upstream against an entire culture of "do this" and "don't do that" and chiding and chastising and I just didn't cope very well with that. Ezzo had reduced the most basic of loving, nurturing relationships into a factory assembly line of Robot Babies.  I hated the very arrogant presumptions of this man and his formula but felt powerless and worthless as a parent because, in the eyes of so many others, I was doing it wrong.

Thankfully, over times, Gary Ezzo and his kingdom met resistance. His infant baby training programs were called out by the American Academy of Pediatrics, among other organizations, for producing failure to thrive in a number of babies. His twisting of scripture was called out by theologians and Christian medical professionals across the country. He was excommunicated by a successive churches. His daughters, who he had supposedly grown God's way, broke off relationship with him.

Yet I still see his books out there. I know many who prefer to use his sleep training methods. He still has some influence. I will never tell people not to use his methods. Some may need the structure. What I will say is that it isn't for everyone and that, no matter what he says, there are no guarantees. Your baby is not a lab rat or Pavlov's dog. Your baby is a beautiful person, created in the image of God. There are no formulas. There are a million different ways to raise children and still be within the framework of a loving, God-honoring family. Gary Ezzo's way is not the magic bullet for the Perfect Christian Child. And do not ever, ever tell me that this way or that way is God's way.

But even though Gary Ezzo doesn't have a corner on the parenting market any more, the damage was done. The idea that there was a right way to raise kids was out there. It still is.

Friday, March 11, 2016

My Story, Part 12

To start at the beginning, click here.
To read Part 11, click here.

It was December 1992 and, with a bit of excitement, but also fear and trepidation, we moved south again. Much of what we were moving back to was incredibly familiar. Back to the south. Back to Asheville, Back to the company that Matt had worked with in the 80s. Back, even, to the church where we had met. But we were different people now. Parents with children. And we had been changed by our experience in Philadelphia.

I cried every day that first year.

We moved into a 2 bedroom apartment on the side of Beaucatcher Mountain overlooking downtown. Only we couldn't cough up the extra $50/month to get the view, so our windows looked out into the 3 story hillside. If you smashed your nose up against the glass and looked up, you might be able to see sky.

Matt started working late the second night on the job. Within the first week he had pulled an all-nighter. I was at home all day with 2 small children, one with chronic ear infections. We had one car to share between us which meant loading the kiddos up at the crack of dawn or late at night to take Matt to and from work or spend the day at home without a car. Isolated and claustrophobic against the steep mountainside. I was lonely. Very, very lonely.

Even though we returned to the church where we had met, we never felt like we belonged. At the time it was a typical southern upper-middle class church and known, informally, as the place where the beautiful people went. I recoiled. These people were tidy. Put together. Suburban. Upwardly mobile. I was a mess. Painstakingly honest. Eager to live in a racially mixed neighborhood and live simply and not give a rip about social conventions and niceties. To a certain extent, it was culture shock, as if I had moved to a foreign country. Even though it was the country I had known first.

Yes. I was lonely. I was angry. I was angry at my husband for taking me away from the community that I loved. So many times I wanted to pack up the kids and just go back. With or without him.

Somewhere in the middle of all this we bought a house. It was an old house built in 1925, chock full of old pipes and bad wiring and cigarette smoke and bacon grease and 3 layers of window treatments held to the wall with gutter nails. And full of charm. And we fixed it up. And moved in. And began a new life for good. Matt had told me that we had to conceive a house before we could conceive another child, so I not-so-patiently waited and the first egg that dropped from my over-eager ovaries after we moved in became Baby #3.

December came. We passed the one year mark in Asheville. I was through the nausea-laden first trimester. I was settling in. Then it snowed. It snowed again the day we left to go for Philadelphia for Christmas. I remember regretting leaving the beautiful snow on the mountains. And as we drove into Philadelphia from the south, past the industrial smokestacks and treeless expanse, I didn't get that twinge of longing I expected. I realized that God had orchestrated things just right. To peel my fingers off our old home and make me long for our new one.