Chris Engleman, of Gaithersburg, is a female-type Chris, not that other low-life variety. Yet she says that restaurants commit a galling gender error whenever she dines out with others.

Servers address the table as "you guys," even if the company is mixed and even (incredibly) if everyone at the table is female.

"I know the idea is to be friendly," Chris says, "but simply saying, 'How are you doing this evening?' or 'Are you ready to order?' is preferable, at least to me. Heck, I'd be glad to hear 'you all.' "

Chris says, " 'You guys' is what we called our son's sports teams when we coached, not what I want to be called by a waiter." Chris urges me to "take on" the "you guys" issue.

I'm delighted to do it, because it is a fumble that has gone far beyond restaurant employees. I have heard it in 7-Elevens, furniture stores, motels, churches--even in my own house.

Our teenagers address their mother and father as "you guys" all the time. I am always quick to point out that the offending child would not exist if "you guys" were correct. But logic and basic anatomy don't stay the onslaught.

To seek an explanation of "you guys," I waded into the belly of the beast. I consulted my main man Kevin, who has been a waiter in Tysons Corner for years. "Just say I work at a place that everyone has heard of," Kevin suggested. Suggestion taken.

Kevin says he does the "you guys" thing only when an entire party is 30 or younger. "It's no big deal to people that age," he said. "It has never brought me a reprimand, or a two-cent 'protest' tip."

If the party is older, Kevin becomes more decorous and more brief. "I'll usually say, 'How are you this evening?' " he says.

Why not the same treatment for younger customers? "It sounds stiff and formal," Kevin said. " 'You guys' sounds casual. Casual means comfortable. Comfortable means they spend money. I'm sorry to trash your idealism, Bob, but that is the idea, after all."

I guess Chris and I will have to have cards printed up so we can flash them as waiters make their initial approach. The cards could say: PLEASE DON'T CALL US GUYS, EVEN IF WE ARE GUYS. I'll bet waiters would get bigger tips if they paid attention.

Eighteen years ago this morning, they put a well-wrapped bundle in my arms and said, "Here she is." I made many promises that day--to the bundle, to the bundle's mother, to myself. Today, I keep one that has become a tradition and a special pleasure: wishing a happy birthday to Emily Susanna Levey in her dad's corner of the comics.

When your first child is born, you try very hard to see clearly into the future, but all you can see are questions. Will she thrive? Will she be talented and accomplished? Will she grow her own two feet, and the desire to stand on them? Will she have a special sauciness, a personality that crackles, an affection for the world?

Emily is all yesses. I know I'm her father, which makes me as biased as can be. But our daughter is a wow.

She is a gifted singer and actress. She is a strong writer and a thoughtful scholar. She is a tireless companion and sounding board to her friends. Best of all, she meets her days head on. She's glad to be on the planet, and it shows.

This birthday is a bit of a bookend. College looms, in a short nine months or so. I know I'll be a soggy, sentimental wreck when Jane and I say farewell to Em in some dorm, insisting that she call us, write us, e-mail us, carrier-pigeon us. After all the years of preparation, our chick will test her wings. I'm betting she'll fly.

For the 18th time on Dec. 16, happy birthday to the best girl I know.

CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL

Has good luck been yours this year? I hope it has. But for sick patients at Children's Hospital, luck could be better. And for many of them, the funds to pay medical bills could be more bountiful.

Our annual Children's Hospital fund-raising campaign depends on donors who believe in helping the poorest children in our midst get the expert health care they need. But as the year ends, we also invite people to take stock. Have you done well this year? Has your family? Don't you want to help sick children and their families get the bounce back in their step? Don't you want to underwrite the health and strength of our community?

Please help us, as generously as you can. All gifts to our campaign are deductible on state and federal income taxes, as long as you itemize deductions. Thank you very much.

Our goal by Jan. 21: $650,000.

In hand as of Dec. 13: $128,778.07.

TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.

BY VISA OR MASTERCARD:

Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.