Usually, I'm an equal-opportunity mail inducer. If I write a column about an emotional issue, I can be pretty sure that half my mail will fall to one side and half to the other.

But a few days ago, I roasted a pair of upscale Alexandria restaurants for failing to make a mom, a dad and their 15-month-old child welcome. For a change, the mail sack tilted exclusively to one side.

It wasn't my side.

You readers were furious at me for suggesting that pricey, adult-oriented restaurants should treat a 15-month-old like any other customer. Some sample rockets:

Susan Browne, of Warrenton: "A 15-month-old in a restaurant is a time bomb waiting to explode . . . .When I go out and spend $100 for dinner at a fancy restaurant, I don't want to even see a kid, never mind listening to them whining and crying."

Debby Zavadil, of Arlington: "No parent can promise that their child will be seen and not heard. Now that our family is grown and we can afford to go to the fancy places, I resent being subjected to someone's fussy child."

Kate Murray, of Arlington: "Who are you kidding? No one disciplines their children anymore. The same yuppies who had babies because their biological clocks were ticking . . . now feel that this unprecedented achievement, their child, should be allowed to take up as much personal and auditory space as he wants. It's the kid version of the gas-hog automobile."

Steven Alan Honley, of Southwest Washington: "What about the other patrons of the restaurant who were there first? . . . .I don't smoke, spit, scream, belch loudly or otherwise interfere with other diners' enjoyment of their meals. Don't I deserve the same consideration?"

K.C. Beckhard, of Vienna: "Even the best behaved 2-year-old cannot and should not be expected to sit quietly through dinner at an upscale restaurant where there may be three, four or even six courses to endure."

Ray Giovannoni, the owner of the two Alexandria places that caused all the trouble in the first place, weighed in with a passionate defense of his anti-kid policy.

"I love children," Ray wrote. "I was one myself. {But} in making your {restaurant} investment work, you decide what type of theme you want and who you will cater to . . . .The Fish Market and Il Porto are not conducive to children."

May I come out of the foxhole now?

All I was trying to suggest was that there are responsible parents in this world who know their young children very, very well. Such parents would never bring a Dennis the Menace to a fancy restaurant because they would suffer more than anyone else.

I've been there, sports fans, and I can tell you: Asking your child to stop pouring water on the butter gets very, very tiresome the 43rd time you do it. So parents who have a Dennis quickly learn not to take him to a good restaurant -- or in extreme cases, any restaurant -- until he more closely resembles a human being.

To set blanket rules makes no more sense for small children than it does for adults. Can Ray Giovannoni really tell me that he has never seen a well-behaved 15-month-old in a nice restaurant? I've seen lots of them. You never know until you try, Ray.

Besides, haven't some of Ray's "adult" customers gotten too well lubricated, dropped their water glasses and annoyed their fellow patrons? Are you going to ban all drinkers from your restaurants, Ray? All men?

What we need are constructive ways to integrate 15-month-olds into nice restaurants rather than destructive ways to segregate them. Luckily, three readers have filled the bill:

When Anne P. Bonchu, of Annandale, used to bring her young children to good restaurants with her, "I always had a chair seat that would connect to a table by heavy metal clamps, or a booster seat." The child felt more comfortable in his or her seat, so Dennis-the-Menace-ism was less likely to erupt.

Andrea Del Villar, of Germantown, has a 9-year-old, a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old, so she never sets foot in a nice restaurant without bringing crayons or quiet games along. It never fails to settle the gang down, Andrea reports.

Joan Mackey, of Centreville, used to bring a full-dress high chair into restaurants with her when her son was 9 months old. He would gurgle happily and smoosh some crackers around his tray. As a result, Mom gurgled more happily herself.

I say again: We need understanding and tolerance, not daggers and ultimatums. Besides, restaurateurs, today's toddler is tomorrow's customer. Do you want friends in 2010, or a new line of work?

Arthur Mitchell, of Bethesda, says the new American motto should be life, liberty and the purchase of happiness.