|At Center of a Clash, Rowdy Children in Coffee Shops|
|Detail:|| CHICAGO, Nov. 8 - Bridget Dehl shushed her 21-month-old son, Gavin, then clapped a hand over his mouth to squelch his tiny screams amid the Sunday brunch bustle. When Gavin kept yelping "yeah, yeah, yeah," Ms. Dehl whisked him from his highchair and out the door.|
Right past the sign warning the cafe's customers that "children of all ages have to behave and use their indoor voices when coming to A Taste of Heaven," and right into a nasty spat roiling the stroller set in Chicago's changing Andersonville neighborhood.
The owner of A Taste of Heaven, Dan McCauley, said he posted the sign - at child level, with playful handprints - in the hope of quieting his tin-ceilinged cafe, where toddlers have been known to sprawl between tables and hurl themselves at display cases for sport.
But many neighborhood mothers took umbrage at the implied criticism of how they handle their children. Soon, whispers of a boycott passed among the playgroups in this North Side neighborhood, once an outpost of avant-garde artists and hip gay couples but now a hot real estate market for young professional families shunning the suburbs.
"I love people who don't have children who tell you how to parent," said Alison Miller, 35, a psychologist, corporate coach and mother of two. "I'd love for him to be responsible for three children for the next year and see if he can control the volume of their voices every minute of the day."
Mr. McCauley, 44, said the protesting parents were "former cheerleaders and beauty queens" who "have a very strong sense of entitlement." In an open letter he handed out at the bakery, he warned of an "epidemic" of antisocial behavior.
"Part of parenting skills is teaching kids they behave differently in a restaurant than they do on the playground," Mr. McCauley said in an interview. "If you send out positive energy, positive energy returns to you. If you send out energy that says I'm the only one that matters, it's going to be a pretty chaotic world."
And so simmers another skirmish between the childless and the child-centered, a culture clash increasingly common in restaurants and other public spaces as a new generation of busy, older, well-off parents ferry little ones with them.
An online petition urging child-free sections in North Carolina restaurants drew hundreds of signers, including Janelle Funk, who wrote, "Whenever a hostess asks me 'smoking or non-smoking?' I respond, 'No kids!' "
At Mendo Bistro in Fort Bragg, Calif., the owners declare "Well-behaved children and parents welcome" to try to stop unmonitored youngsters from tap-dancing on the 100-year-old wood floors.
Menus at Zumbro Cafe in Minneapolis say: "We love children, especially when they're tucked into chairs and behaving," which Barbara Daenzer said she read as an invitation to cease her weekly breakfast visits after her son was born.
Even at the Full Moon in Cambridge, Mass., a cafe created for families, with a train table, a dollhouse and a plastic kitchen in a carpeted play area, there are rules about inside voices and a "No lifeguard on duty" sign to remind parents to take responsibility.
"You run the risk when you start monitoring behavior," said the Full Moon's owner, Sarah Wheaton. "You can say no cellphones to people, but you can't say your father speaks too loudly, he has to keep his voice down. And you can't really say your toddler is too loud when she's eating."
Here in Chicago, parents have denounced Toast, a popular Lincoln Park breakfast spot, as unwelcoming since a note about using inside voices appeared on the menu six months ago. The owner of John's Place, which resembles a kindergarten class at recess in early evening, established a separate "family friendly" room a year ago, only to face parental threats of lawsuits.
Many of the Andersonville mothers who are boycotting Mr. McCauley's bakery also skip story time at Women and Children First, a feminist bookstore, because of the rules: children can be kicked out for standing, talking or sipping drinks. When a retail clerk at the bookstore asked a woman to stop breast-feeding last spring, "the neighborhood set him straight real fast," said Mary Ann Smith, the area's alderwoman.
After a dozen years at one site, Mr. McCauley moved A Taste of Heaven six blocks away in May 2004, to a busy corner on Clark Street. But there, he said, teachers and writers seeking afternoon refuge were drowned out not just by children running amok but also by oblivious cellphone chatterers.
Children were climbing the cafe's poles. A couple were blithely reading the newspaper while their daughter lay on the floor blocking the line for coffee. When the family whose children were running across the room to throw themselves against the display cases left after his admonishment, Mr. McCauley recalled, the restaurant erupted in applause.
So he put up the sign. Then things really got ugly.
"The looks I would get when I went in there made me so nervous that I would try to buy the food as fast as I could and get out," said Laura Brauer, 40, who has stopped visiting A Taste of Heaven with her two children. "I think that the mothers who allow their kids to run around and scream, that's wrong, but kids scream and there is nothing you can do about it. What are we supposed to do, not enjoy ourselves at a cafe?"
Ms. Miller said that one day when her son, then 4 months old, was fussing, a staff member rolled her eyes and announced for all to hear, "We've got a screamer!"
Kim Cavitt recalled having coffee and a cookie one afternoon with her boisterous 2-year-old when "someone came over and said you just need to keep her quiet or you need to leave."
"We left, and we haven't been back since," Ms. Cavitt said. "You go to a coffee shop or a bakery for a rest, to relax, and that you would have to worry the whole time about your child doing something that children do - really what they're saying is they don't welcome children, they want the child to behave like an adult."
Why suffer such scorn, the mothers said, when clerks at the Swedish Bakery, a neighborhood institution, offer children - calm or crying - free cookies? Why confront such criticism when the recently opened Sweet Occasions, a five-minute walk down Clark Street, designed the restroom aisle to accommodate double strollers and offers a child-size ice cream cone for $1.50? (At A Taste of Heaven, the smallest is $3.75.)
"It's his business; he has the right to put whatever sign he wants on the door," Ms. Miller said. "And people have the right to respond to that sign however they want."
Mr. McCauley said he had received kudos from several restaurant owners in the area, though none had followed his lead. He has certainly lost customers because of the sign, but some parents say the offense is outweighed by their addiction to the scones, and others embrace the effort at etiquette.
"The litmus test for me is if they have highchairs or not," said Ms. Dehl, the woman who scooped her screaming son from his seat during brunch, as she waited out his restlessness on a sidewalk bench. "The fact that they had one highchair, and the fact that he's the only child in the restaurant is an indication that it's an adult place, and if he's going to do his toddler thing, we should take him out and let him run around."
Mr. McCauley said he would rather go out of business than back down. He likens this one small step toward good manners to his personal effort to decrease pollution by hiring only people who live close enough to walk to work.
"I can't change the situation in Iraq, I can't change the situation in New Orleans," he said. "But I can change this little corner of the world."
Gretchen Ruethling contributed reporting for this article.
|Source:||By JODI WILGOREN, The New York Times|