- The Washington Times - Monday, December 5, 2005

CHICAGO (AP) — Dan McCauley had seen one too many children at his cafe lying on the floor in front of the counter, careening off the glass pastry case, coming perilously close to getting their fingers pinched in the front door. So he posted a sign: “Children of all ages have to behave and use their indoor voices.”

To him, it was a simple reminder to parents to keep an eye on their children and set some limits. But to some parents in his North Side Chicago neighborhood, the sign may as well have read, “If you have kids, you’re not welcome.”

That notice, adorned with pastel handprints, has become a lightning rod in a larger debate over parenting and misbehaving children.

“It’s not about the kids,” says Mr. McCauley, the 44-year-old owner of A Taste of Heaven cafe, who has no children but says he likes them a lot. “It’s about the parents who are with them. Are they supervising and guiding them?

“I’m just asking that they are considerate to people around them.”

Although he has created some enemies in his neighborhood, Mr. McCauley has received hundreds of calls and more than 600 letters, the overwhelming majority of them supportive. One person from Alabama typed out in bold letters: “In my opinion, you’re a hero! Keep it up.”

It is a sentiment that people increasingly feel comfortable expressing. Web loggers regularly make impassioned pleas for child-free zones in public, and e-mailers have been forwarding a photograph of a sign in an unidentified business that reads, “Unattended Children Will Be Given an Espresso and a Puppy.”

Although it is common policy for upscale restaurants to bar children, owners of other types of businesses also are setting limits.

The Wynn Las Vegas, for instance, does not allow visitors who aren’t guests to have strollers; hotel officials say it is to prevent crashes with other pedestrians. The Bellagio Hotel does not take guests younger than 18 without special permission.

All Booked Up in Suffolk, Va., is among bookstores that have separate sections where children can play and rest. Many ballparks have alcohol-free “family sections.” And a few restaurants have added separate dining areas for parents with children.

Some parents are fine with setting limits and complain that too many of their peers take their children to places traditionally meant for adults, such as late-night movies and rock concerts.

Still, although they agree that some parents push the boundaries too far, other weary parents feel under siege — and misunderstood.

“Don’t get me wrong. As a parent, I have an arsenal that includes the deadly stare, loss of privileges and ‘We’re going back to the car, right now,’” says Angela Toda, a 38-year-old mother of two small children in College Park. “But the bottom line is, there are certain moments that all kids and parents have — and sometimes your kid is going to lose it in a public place.”

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