The Chase: A Tale of a Public Timeout

Like many writers, I sometimes need a little inspiration before sitting down to write a post. Every Monday, I look forward to receiving an email with just that—inspiration in the form of writing prompts from Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writer’s Workshop (you should read her latest post—it made me burst out laughing). Needless to say, this week* it worked—I’m inspired. So, today I’m going to tell you an embarrassing story.

This story takes place in the late fall, about four years ago, when my son was three. My daughter was in desperate need of a winter coat, but because she was fixated on getting a Northface jacket—something I refused to buy for her—she rejected every coat I picked out. So, in an act of desperation on a particularly cold evening after work—with both kids tired and hungry—I took them to Burlington Coat Factory. As we headed toward the children’s section, I told my son that if he sat nicely in the cart while I found a coat for his sister, I would get him something. Like most words of bribery, the incentive to remain “good” lasted approximately five minutes. I ended up warning him a few more times that I would not be getting him the “Thomas the Tank Engine” book that he had just grabbed off of a nearby shelf if he didn’t behave, but it was to no avail—he refused to do anything other than whine and struggle to get out of the shopping cart.

I soon found myself running between two children: my daughter who was sulkily trying on one winter coat after another, and my son who was crying, desperate to be set free. Within minutes, my patience was completely shot, and all of my kind negotiations were over. Fortunately, it was at that moment that my daughter grudgingly settled on a coat, and we were finally able to head to the checkout.

Once there, I took the Thomas book from my son’s hands and handed it to the cashier saying, “we aren’t going to take this.” When my son saw her put the book behind the counter, he began screaming “Thomas!” at the top of his lungs. I tried to pay for the coat as quickly as I could so that we could get away from the shocked stares of the people around us.

As we approached the door, I took my still-screaming son out of the cart so that we could walk to the car. Within a second, he was running back through the store screaming “Thomas!” over and over again.

The chase was on.

Even though he was only three, he was fast—he was half-way through the store before I finally caught up to him. At this point, I was sweating, embarrassed, and completely out of my mind. I had two choices to make: 1) I could pick up my rather large, screaming son while simultaneously dodging his kicking and punching while running to the car; OR 2) I could put him in timeout. Even though there was a voice inside my head that was saying “You’re crazy,” I decided to go with option 2.

I had just started doing “timeouts” with him, and I think he had the general concept down—sit quietly in one spot for three minutes (he was three), if he gets up, the time will start over again. However, I had never actually attempted to perform one with him in public. I somehow got him to sit somewhere in the middle of the Women’s section, I set the timer on my iPhone, showed it to him so he could see that he had three minutes, then pressed “start.” He sat there for about 5 seconds before he pulled himself up off the floor in an attempt to bolt away from me. I restarted the timer, and the next time he sat for about ten seconds before once again trying to flee. This went on at least eight more times, each one tearing down my resolve just a little more than the last. Every time I glanced up, I would see yet another person staring at me and the commotion that my son was causing. I was mortified.

But I didn’t give up.

On the 10th or 12th try—I’m not sure since I lost count—he finally sat still. He cried silently, but he didn’t get up for the entire time, and finally the alarm went off signaling the end of this embarrassing ordeal. I then helped him up off the floor so that we could finally leave. As I hurried both of my children toward the exit, my son let out one more feeble cry for “Thomas” as the door finally closed behind us.

This may have been one of the most embarrassing situations I found myself in as a parent, but it also ended up being an incredibly successful one. By following through with that timeout, my son learned that I was serious about the importance of listening to me—for the next few months, he was incredibly well-behaved when we were in public. I also learned an important lesson. I shouldn’t care about what others think of me when I know that I am doing the right thing as a parent.

*This prompt was actually from last week’s Writer’s Workshop—it takes me FOREVER to finish a single post!

Published by Erin Rehill

A few years ago, my then eight-year-old daughter told me that she wished I could write down all the things I told her so that she wouldn’t forget them when she got older. In that moment, my daughter gave me such a sense of validation, something I hadn’t really experienced in that way. As parents, we don’t often receive confirmation from our children that we are doing a good job, or that we even know what we are talking about. Since that time, I’ve started to pay more attention to the things I tell her, often thinking to myself “Will she remember this when she is older?” So, this is for her, my words of advice to be read, thought about, laughed at, and maybe even used, when she is older.

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