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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I felt compelled to write and offer my advice to "Sweet 16 in Seattle," who is often mistaken to be her baby brother's teen-age mother.

When I was 16, my mother had my little brother and shortly after, was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. I happily carried my brother because my mother physically could not. I heard the "tut-tuts" from people in public, was stared at endlessly in restaurants and had people refuse to serve me in stores.

My advice to "Sweet 16" is to hold your head high. You have done nothing wrong -- you do not owe anyone an explanation.

Second, and more important, take a lesson from it: Do not judge people or situations from what they "seem" to be on the outside. There are always two sides to a story.

And last, don't let it bother you so much. Enjoy your brother as much as I did mine. Seven years later we still have a special bond that I would not trade for anything -- not even the approval of an often-too-quick-to-judge public. -- PROUD SISTER IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR PROUD SISTER: That's sage advice. I hope "Sweet 16" reads and heeds it. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I was about 13 during the mid-'50s in San Diego -- pushing my infant twin nieces around a department store while my 27-year-old sister was upstairs paying a bill. A woman stopped me and began asking me about the twins. How old? Boys or girls? About the time she got around to "Are they yours?" my sister emerged from the elevator behind me and said, "Yes. And I'm their grandmother!"

I still remember the expression on the woman's face. She never said another word as we went about our business.

I thought "Sweet 16" might get a laugh out of the story, just as I still do. -- BEEN THERE IN APPLE VALLEY, CALIF.

DEAR BEEN THERE: I'm sure she will relate to it -- as will many others. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I am now 21, but I used to baby-sit often. If I took the kids to carnivals, libraries, etc., I would be subjected to those same stares and whispers. I talked to some of the parents, and they surprised me with an adorable T-shirt that said, "Best Baby Sitter." It had the kids' handprints and names on it. Maybe "Sweet 16" could wear one that says, "No. 1 Sister," or have one made for the baby that says, "He's not heavy, he's my brother."

Anything cute would help relieve the situation, although nothing will eliminate all the stares or change the minds of some people. -- BEEN THERE, TRY THIS, GOLDEN VALLEY, MINN.

DEAR TRY THIS: Good suggestions, and I agree with your conclusion. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: "Sweet 16's" dilemma is not a new one. As a 14-year-old back in 1944, I often cared for a neighbor's infant. One brisk winter day I bundled both of us up and took her out in her buggy. A woman I had never seen before stopped us and lectured me about having a baby when I was so young. When she finally stopped for breath, I managed to tell her I was the baby sitter, not the mother. She "humphed" several times and left without apologizing.

The only way to handle things like this is with a sense of humor. Maybe the 16-year-old and her 13-year-old sister could get T-shirts that say, "I am my brother's keeper." -- JOAN IN FRESNO, CALIF.

DEAR JOAN: That's a terrific idea. And just what the Good Book preaches. After all, in a sense, we are all our brother's keepers.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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