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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: For 15 years, my marriage and family were fairly normal. Then we moved back to be near my in-laws and help while my father-in-law was ill. Two years ago, he died. And I have now lost my husband (I'll call him Jack) -- to his mother! He has become mama's little boy again.

My mother-in-law is an energetic, bright and creative woman. Even when we lived far away, she tried to run his life, and that of our family. Now that we live nearby, she completely runs and ruins everything. She buys the attention of our children with things that we can't afford and really prefer they not have. She has time to cook elaborate meals, take the kids on trips, etc. She criticizes my cooking, my housekeeping, the way we discipline the children -- everything. And my husband, though he can manage a corporation, has never been able to stand up to his mother.

Almost every night she has something "new" to show one of the children. Every night she has some little chore for Jack to do. On weekends, she has already made plans for herself, my husband and the children. She makes it abundantly clear that I am not welcome to participate. I have suggested counseling for us, or at least talking to our pastor. Since his mother doesn't like our pastor, that got shot down.

If I were to leave Jack, it would be my fault, of course. Abby, what does one do when the "other woman" is a man's mother? -- CHARLOTTE IN NORTH CAROLINA

DEAR CHARLOTTE: If I were you, the first thing I'd do is start looking for another man -- for your mother-in-law! With all that energy, she needs an outlet other than her son and grandchildren.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 19-year-old girl and my best friend, Cliff, is 21. We have been best friends for about three years and even tried dating, but it never worked for us. We agreed a long time ago that if we didn't get married, we'd be in each other's weddings.

Well, Cliff is getting married next spring and has asked me to be his "best man." I accepted. He was originally going to have a male friend for his best man, and I was going to serve cake or take care of the guest book. But Cliff decided he wants me to have the honor.

My problem is that my mother doesn't approve. She and my dad were married in 1967 and still believe in the traditional way of doing things. I called several bridal shops and was told that I won't be the first woman to be a "best man." Cliff's fiance, his mother and the rest of the wedding party are all for it.

Cliff adores my parents. He calls them "Mamma" and "Dad." He values their opinion as much as I do, but we both want me to be his best man.

Abby, what do you think? Is it appropriate for a woman to be a groom's best man? -- BEST FRIEND IN KENNESAW, GA.

DEAR BEST FRIEND: It is unusual but not inappropriate for a woman to be a "best man." That honor usually goes to the groom's brother, his closest friend, or even his father if they are very close.

Since you are Cliff's best friend, and there is no objection on the part of the bride or her family, you certainly qualify.

DEAR ABBY: Regarding the letters in your column about fractured Spanish: Some years ago my wife and I were in the airport in Madrid, Spain. They had a grill with hotdogs on it, and I was hungry!

I asked the cook three times for a hotdog. No response. Then I said, "Caliente woof-woof, por favor."

I got my hotdog, pronto! -- MARVIN RUBENSTEIN, SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ.

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