We have a new system. We are using different language. We are hoping for a fresh start.

Zoe is working on “being the boss of [her] body.” This is a concept I gleaned from re-reading the sheaf of papers that Terry Sink, the physical therapist who saw Zoe in Winston-Salem, gave us as we left her office. I know that Zoe is yearning for as much independence as a four-year-old can handle, and that the idea of being the boss of anything, especially her own body, is appealing. And much more palatable than being the object of frequent reminders that border on nagging by her parents. So being the boss of her body means that she does whatever she needs to do to take care of herself–taking her vitamins and medicine, using the bathroom when her watch goes off and when there’s an opportunity during camp or school and when a teacher or her parents suggest and when her body tells her to. And not arguing about it, which as of late has been the hardest thing. Her urologist believes the timed voiding–using the bathroom at least every two hours–is key to resolving her bladder issues, but we cannot control this. The best we can do is encourage.

To the end of not arguing, we have added to this concept the idea of being the boss of one’s emotions as well. I have written before that Zoe’s been dealing with a lot of anger that I think has resulted from our increased attention to a problem she’s already fed up with and frustrated by. We have tried to communicate to her that it’s ok to get angry or frustrated but it’s not ok to take it out on us. I ordered a handful of books from Amazon as well as a relaxation cd for kids that involves guided imagery and muscle relaxation featuring sea creatures. And we’ve gotten advice from various professionals and parents about what resources to give Zoe so she can express and deal with her feelings in a constructive, or at least not hurtful, way. We’ve gone back to the always solid but sometimes hard to remember practice of active listening and echoing her feelings–the same technique that has been invaluable in keeping our marriage strong. “You are really mad because we have to leave the pool, aren’t you?” “You’re so frustrated that Daddy had to go to work because you were having fun playing with him.”  It may sound silly but it always seems to help. She pretty much always says yes. That doesn’t mean she’s instantly happy or that the anger dissolves immediately, but she is usually thankful that someone understands why she’s upset when she can’t bring herself to articulate it. So we are trying this and encouraging her to express her anger and then move on, instead of having a fit.

Meanwhile, she wants a bike. Do you see where this is going? Recently while Randy and I were at a concert, Zoe’s babysitter took her to the park and, to our surprise, helped her ride a bike (with training wheels) for the first time. Whose bike it was I have no idea. We had been toying with the idea of getting Zoe a bike for a while (and trying to decide between a balance bike, a regular bike, or a regular bike with pedals removed to make an ad hoc balance bike) but she hadn’t expressed a strong desire so we hadn’t really done anything about it. Since then Zoe has been very excited by the prospect of a bike of her own. So we decided to introduce a new system to give her a strong incentive to be the boss of her body and her emotions and be rewarded by a bike.

A couple years ago we used a similar system, which we learned is called a token economy, to get Zoe to go to bed without a giant tantrum. Every night she cooperated she earned a paper loop, and after a certain amount of loops accumulated on her chain, she earned a treat. After several weeks worth of loops were hanging from her bedroom door, bedtime was a breeze. Or at least not an ordeal. So we have a precedent for this.

Every day that she demonstrates she is the boss of her body and the boss of her emotions, she gets a poker chip at bedtime. When she makes it to 30 chips, we will head to the bike shop. So far, six days in, she has 7 chips. She earned a bonus today because she made herself get out of the pool to use the potty, which she is usually loathe to do, and she did not make a scene when we had to leave the pool to go home. Earning a chip does not mean that she has no accidents, because we know it is not her fault when she has an accident. In recent days her accidents have been caused by politeness. She is in week two of art camp, and the bathroom there is down the hall and she is not permitted to go without an adult. Monday she said when she had to go the teacher was talking and she didn’t want to interrupt so she tried to hold it but couldn’t. I told her it was really nice that she was trying to be polite, but sometimes it was ok to interrupt, or that she could ask the helper to take her to the bathroom. Today she said the teacher and both helpers were all talking when she had to go. I reiterated that it is really ok to interrupt. It is hard to teach her so many things at once. I am so delighted that she’s trying to be well-mannered and respectful. But I don’t want that skill to be at the expense of her taking care of her body. So we’re rewarding for effort more than results, although we are confident that effort generally leads to results.

Meanwhile, we are also planning a new tactic on the medical front. Zoe’s urologist has suggested that we try an anticholinergic, a medication designed to control the symptoms of overactive bladders in people of all ages. We also have a series of physical therapy appointments scheduled for her in August. So we have a new system at home, a new medical regimen on the horizon, and a new bike hopefully in the future. She had a really good day today, which means I had a really good day too. She’s had a few good days in the past week. It’s a relief to have a conversation that doesn’t turn into an argument. It’s a relief to see your child calm down in the face of a disappointment instead of blowing up. It’s a relief to be able to reward success, even if it’s not perfection. It is glorious to have a good day.