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Yes, your children just may be out of control
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hellion (heyen) n. informal: a rowdy, mischievous, or troublemaking person, esp. a child in a restaurant

If this offends mommies and daddies out there who think it is their inalienable right to turn their kids loose on an unsuspecting public in a restaurant because they're paying customers, then so be it.

Your offspring's behavior reflects rather poorly on your parenting skills as if you'd really care.

None of this is directed at parents who make ongoing efforts to keep their child behaving as if they are a member of the human race despite the kids' screaming, whining or loud talking.

Here are some inexcusable behavior noted not in fast food places but in sit-down restaurants where dinner for two can easily push $50.

•THE WANDERER: Parents must think it is cute to let junior roam the restaurant. Once in a while they'll call out for him to come back, but they don't move a muscle to retrieve him. Other patrons may not exactly be thrilled about junior climbing into their booth, but this doesn't faze mommy and daddy.

•THE LITTLE JOHN BELUSHI: Some parents buy their kids tapes of "Barney," others apparently prefer "Animal House." The best example had to be a few years back in the Modesto Tony Roma's. There was a party of about 10 adults who let their primary grade-age children "play" in a nearby empty booth as they chatted while waiting for their meal. The three kids had a great time tearing apart sugar packages, tossing the contents at each other, shaking salt on the table, dueling with silverware and even squirting the rib sauces at each other. The staff tried to do their best to keep control by removing every possible weapon within their reach but all of the adults in the party just continued talking like nothing was happening. Even Dennis the Menace wasn't such a hell raiser to try a trick like that.

• FINGER LICKING GOOD: For years, people have tried to convince me it wasn't healthy to eat out of a salad bar. It wasn't until we visited the Sizzler in Modesto that I understood exactly what they meant. A kid - I'd say was about 7 years old - was following an adult that she called mom around the salad bar. She got my attention - and that of others - when she sneezed, wiped her nose on the back of her hand and then reached in and grabbed a small handful of olives. A second or two later she used her fingers to scoop up some shredded cheese. Another customer asked the mother why she was letting the kid pick at the food with her fingers. Mom told the lady to mind her own business.

• YOUNG VAN HALENS IN TRAINING: I'm not really a grouch, but how can parents sit there and ignore a screaming 4-year-old in a restaurant full of people? Perhaps they listened to too much thumper music turned up at high volume while driving around in cars during their formative teen years. You'll never guess what civilized people do when one of their kids tries to do a Van Halen act because they're throwing a fit. They give them one stern warning and if that doesn't do the trick, they march them out of the restaurant. They don't return until their tantrum is over. Perhaps such responsible parents operate under the false assumption that other people don't want to hear how healthy our grandkids' lungs are.

I know. I know. I have no idea how tough it is to be a parent. Fortunately, my parents didn't use that crutch as a reason to not establish a code of behavior they expected us to follow.

One time when we looked a tad annoyed, the mom of a preschooler who had been screaming off and on and throwing food looked at us and said she was sorry but she was trying to get her kid used to eating out in public.

Gee, I must have missed something. One would think the issue here is not how they are acting in public alone but how they are acting at the dinner table.

Table manners should be taught at home and not in a restaurant full of paying customers that you are oblivious to simply because you are used to the out-of-control behavior that you must tolerate from your kids.

Yes, it is none of my business how you raise your children. But by the same token it isn't your right as a parent to hold an entire restaurant hostage to your rude kid's whims.