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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: You are my last hope. I grew up in a very abusive family. Every day was a nightmare. I remember saying as a child that I would never hit my children.

My worst fears have come true. I abuse my 5-year-old son. I try not to. He means everything to me. I love my son so much and don't want to hurt him, but I can't seem to help myself.

I pray every day for help and for forgiveness. I turned out exactly like my parents. I'm desperate and full of guilt. Abby, how can I stop abusing my precious son? I'm a single mom and can't afford a counselor. -- DESPERATE IN TEXAS

DEAR DESPERATE: The fact that you're asking for help tells me you did not turn out exactly like your parents. Many parents feel as you do, but few have the courage to admit it.

When you feel like lashing out at your son, remember to get hold of yourself before you take hold of your child. Stop in your tracks and turn away from him. Put your hands over your mouth and count to 20, or splash cold water on your face. Close your eyes and imagine that you are feeling exactly what your son is feeling. Pick up the phone and call someone -– anyone -– even if it is the prerecorded weather.

The National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse is a non-profit organization that has support groups for parents like you who are frightened by their own violent behavior. To find a group in your area, write NCPCA, P.O. Box 2866, Chicago, Ill. 60690, or phone 1-800-556-2722.

Please write again in six months and let me know how you are and how to reach you. I care.

DEAR ABBY: I must respond to the letter from "Eileen Drew, Melbourne, Fla.," whose husband wears a safety helmet while using his riding lawnmower.

You took it a step further, saying roofers, pool men and all workers with any risk of head injury should wear helmets.

All well and good, Abby, but I think you should have gone even further. There are many hazards around the home and in recreational pursuits from which we all need protection.

For example, take the shower: Do you realize how many people are injured by falling while showering? I have taken to wearing a safety helmet while in the shower, just in case I should slip and fall. You may be wondering how I wash my hair. I'm in the process of solving that by hanging the harness of a WWI parachute from the shower ceiling. From this I will be suspended, in order to avoid falling while my helmet is removed for shampooing.

I love to swim, but I fear that I may strike my head while diving, so I also wear a helmet while swimming. I get lots of funny looks, but that's OK; I'm safe and those other guys are not!

Another hazard I've recently been made aware of is hitting my head on the nightstand should I fall out of bed at night. Also, at my age, I have to get up frequently during the night to use the bathroom; what if I should trip and fall in the darkened room? To avoid these hazards, I wear my safety helmet to bed.

I am currently working on an invention that will provide ultimate safety to everyone, everywhere, 24 hours a day: FULL BODY ARMOR. The air-conditioning unit for summertime wear has me baffled right now, but I've resolved to keep working on it.

In the meantime, next month when we go to Hawaii, it is my intention to see to it that every person walking on Waikiki beach wears a safety helmet. I know I'll be wearing mine. -- NORM TOTEY, EVERETT, WASH.

DEAR NORM: Enough, already. You win!

Abby shares more of her favorite, easy-to-prepare recipes. To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, More Favorite Recipes, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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