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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am the mother of three children, all under the age of 12. My problem concerns my in-laws, who are overly generous with the gifts they buy our children. I know of no one else who spends as much or buys as many gifts as my in-laws do on birthdays and Christmas. My mother-in-law buys gifts for all three on each of the children's birthdays so the other two "won't feel bad."

I never need to purchase clothes because they buy so many. I still buy gifts for the kids, but it's simply overkill combined with what they receive from their grandparents. My children actually tire from opening gifts before they finish, and then they have difficulty remembering everything they received. Don't misunderstand; I'm very grateful, but I find their generosity almost absurd. I have asked them to cut back, but it only causes problems between us.

My parents also find my in-laws' generosity overblown. Consequently, about three years ago, they stopped giving the children any gifts at all. When I asked my mother why, she told me she couldn't compete with the other grandparents. Abby, my parents are loving grandparents, but they don't have the kind of money my in-laws do. My husband thinks my parents are terrible for not giving gifts. He insists it's the thought that counts. My mother says why bother when the children are so overwhelmed they don't know what gift came from which family member.

So far, the children haven't questioned why only one side of their family gives them gifts, but I know they will ask one day. I work hard to instill good values in our children, but I fear that they will grow up spoiled. How should I handle this? -- GENUINELY CONCERNED

DEAR CONCERNED: Since you cannot limit the number of gifts your in-laws give your children, limit the number they can open at one time. Assure your parents that no one is measuring the quality or quantity of gifts, but it's important that they recognize their grandchildren's milestones. Consider donating a portion of the children's "loot" to needy children in your community. If you enlist their involvement, you will be making strides in teaching your children the importance of giving to those who are less fortunate.

DEAR ABBY: The reader survey on "pet peeve" words in the English language causes me to note that I am a born and bred Southerner. And we Southerners do have a wonderful language! We never say with one word what we can say with two.

We water our flowers with a hose pipe. Something happens each and every day. Our children have two first names: Anne Marie, Charlie Ray, Billy Bob, Camellia Ann. A person has yellow jaundice. A small, tiny baby is cute. The two twins are sisters. Our pet is a kitty cat. Our other pet is a hound dog. We eat breakfast bacon and corn grits. We climb up the stairs. A house either burns up or burns down.

Well, I could go on and on for a month of Sundays, but I don't want to be redundant. Abby, I tell you the truth and it's not a lie -- the South is a truly wonderful place! -- MARIE T. WILLHITE, BRENTWOOD, TENN.

DEAR MARIE: I do declare, Miss Marie, I'm going to publish your fine letter -- God willing, and the creeks don't rise! Thanks so much for writing.

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