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by Abigail Van Buren

Parents of Lost Children Sometimes Need Direction

DEAR ABBY: I work at the customer service desk at a popular shopping mall, where I see some very disturbing things. For example, lost children are brought to us until their parents miss them and seek help. It's not uncommon for parents to leave small children watching a display, telling them, "Stay right here -- I'm going to do a little shopping." Children have little conception of time, and will sometimes panic, thinking they have been abandoned.

When they finally locate their lost children, the parents get angry at the kids -- often spanking them and verbally berating them for getting lost. Don't they realize that it's the adults' responsibility to keep their eyes on their child -- and not the other way around?

Something else we see all too often is a parent telling the child, "If you don't behave, that policeman -- or security guard -- will get you." This makes children afraid to approach a policeman if they need help. I have seen children ask complete strangers to help them find their mommy rather than Security because they are afraid of policemen.

I don't have any children, but I feel lucky to be able to dry the eyes of lost children and help them find their parents. What if they asked for help from the wrong person? Like it or not, there are a lot of evil people out there just looking for the opportunity to abduct a lost child.

Abby, this may be too long to print, but I know you can shorten it and say it better. Perhaps seeing this in print will open some eyes. -- JAN BRANDENBURG, CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE, BIRMINGHAM, ALA.

DEAR JAN BRANDENBURG: Your letter required no editing. It is perfect just the way you wrote it. Thank you for a valuable letter and a plainspoken wake-up call to many parents who need to see it.

DEAR ABBY: My mother-in-law phones me daily. The calls are answered in case of emergency, but if I don't make an excuse to cut the conversation short, she can interrupt my day to the tune of 40 minutes or more.

Several years ago I asked her not to call so often. Much as I love family, I have friends, kids, hobbies, cooking -- in short, a life. I call my own mother weekly, not daily.

Even her own kids say she can never get enough. If you call her, it's not often enough; same for a visit, except you didn't stay long enough or eat enough food. She's retired now, so it's gotten worse.

How can I get her to leave me alone and get a life? I am ... STILL MAKING EXCUSES IN SAN DIEGO

DEAR STILL MAKING EXCUSES: Get an answering machine and screen your telephone calls. Your mother-in-law can leave a message. And you can return her call at your convenience.

DEAR ABBY: I am an elderly widow who lives alone. I'm writing to share a special kindness one of my daughters does for me.

Sue visits me for a weekend about once a month. When she comes, she brings a collection of one-portion frozen treats that reflects her cooking during the month. There are portions of her big batches of soup, spaghetti sauce with meatballs, stews, etc. I no longer cook things like that just for myself, so they are welcome indeed. She says that when she's cooking, it makes her happy to put aside a serving for me.

Every time I take one of her entrees from my freezer, I'm reminded of her love and thoughtfulness, and what a lucky mother I am. Don't you agree? -- PATRICIA MURPHY, WILMINGTON, DEL.

DEAR MRS. MURPHY: Absolutely! Count your blessings. You have the luck of the Irish.

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