Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My son, "Brad," is in first grade in a small private school. When birthday time rolls around, I always invite all the kids. They all show up, but when it comes to returning the invitation, some do -- but most don't. Brad is very hurt when he is excluded from their parties. It seems to me that when you accept an invitation, you should reciprocate.

It's not a matter of money, Abby; the parents can afford to invite all the children. One parent told me she lets her son decide whom to invite and she stays out of it. Isn't this teaching a child that bad manners are acceptable and getting along with each other is not important? My child has also wanted to exclude a particular child. I always say, "No one likes being left out."

I know I can't control what other people do, but I hope this letter reminds parents what it was like to be a child. Life isn't always fair, but at least we can teach our kids proper etiquette. -- PERPLEXED IN VIRGINIA

DEAR PERPLEXED: Even more important than teaching children proper etiquette is teaching them empathy for other people. Unless young people are taught respect for the feelings of others, all the etiquette lessons in the world are wasted.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 73-year-old single lady. I've been alone and lonely for 14 years, ever since my husband died. I recently met a man, "Gerald," who is five years younger than me. His wife died a year ago. Our chemistry is wonderful -- he seems to be the answer to my prayers.

So what's my problem? Gerald wears a vial around his neck that contains some of his wife's ashes. While the thought is sweet and touching, it makes me uncomfortable when he is making love to me. He says he cares for me, and I know I care for him. How should I handle this? -- SECOND TIME AROUND

DEAR SECOND: Tell Gerald you don't want his wife's ashes to come between you. So when he's making love to you, he should remove them from his neck and put them in a place of respect -- preferably out of your range of vision. That should do the trick.

DEAR ABBY: Last Easter, an unfortunate incident occurred in our home. I would like to share it with your readers so they won't suffer the heartbreak we did.

Like so many people, I bought an Easter lily for the holiday. My 6-month-old kitten chewed the ends off a couple of the leaves -- and died on Easter morning.

A few days later, I learned from the poison control center that Easter lilies are highly toxic to felines and cause acute renal failure that results in certain death. They are not toxic to dogs or humans.

Several veterinarians were unaware of this plant's toxicity to cats, and my own veterinarian has it listed as a safe plant.

The plant industry should label toxic plants as such on the care labels so that pet owners won't lose a beloved member of their household in such a preventable way as we did. Your animal-loving readers should write to their state representatives and demand that these warnings be made law. -- SUE VON ESCHEN, ROCKFORD, MICH.

DEAR SUE: Please accept my sympathy for the loss of your pet. Your letter is an important one, because many experts are unaware of the danger Easter lilies can pose to felines. I called the Los Angeles poison control center to confirm what you've written. Cat lovers, listen up!

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby's "Keepers," P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600