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Inaugural Nudge: Leave The Little Guys at Home

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 4, 2008; Page B01

Organizers of President-elect Barack Obama's Jan. 20 swearing-in ceremony are being as kid-friendly as a snooty, high-priced restaurant.

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Officials are banning all strollers and backpacks and make a point of saying on their Web site that "there are no childcare facilities provided to attendees." If that hint isn't enough, they suggest that "extra consideration" be taken by those planning to bring children, noting that "a vast majority of attendees will be in standing room sections and should be prepared to be on their feet for several hours."

They also helpfully point out that the swearing-in ceremony is an outdoor event "that is typically cold -- normally 37 F at noon -- and occasionally wet."

In other words: Leave the kiddies at home.

"It's like, 'No history for you, kids,' " said Greg Allen, a New York-based father of two and author of Daddytypes.com, a blog for new dads.

Allen said he can understand the ban against strollers because of space limitations, but no backpacks? And do Baby Bjorn carriers count?

"Maybe a man-purse?" he said hopefully.

Carole Florman, spokeswoman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, said: "An event where you will have 1 million people is inherently kid-unfriendly. They are shorter than everyone else; they can be stepped on. Parents should think long and hard about bringing a small kid to an event with 1 million people."

Large bags, umbrellas, suitcases and thermoses are also banned. (The complete list of banned items can be found at http://inaugural.senate.gov/2009/accessibility.cfm.) Baby Bjorn carriers are okay. The ban covers the area from the steps of the Capitol to Fourth Street NW on the Mall.

She said the restrictions were put in place for security -- strollers are made of tubular metal -- and the logistics of searching bags and backpacks, which slow security lines.

"We're not telling them not to bring kids," Florman said. "But you need to bring your common sense. You will be outdoors for a minimum of four hours in the middle of January."

Florman said 240,000 inaugural tickets have been issued, and 210,000 are standing-only tickets. Children old enough to walk will need their own ticket.

Despite the hurdles, Allen expects that plenty of parents will bring their children.

"It's so momentous, it won't discourage them," he said. "It will remind parents to put them in snowsuits.''

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