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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am a happily married woman with two beautiful children and a terrific husband. When I was younger, my parents would not allow me to date until I was 18. Even when I turned 18, I still wasn't allowed to date. So I devised a plan. I would lie to my parents and sneak around. My boyfriend at the time -- now my husband of 10 years -- has two sisters. I asked one of them to help me to see my boyfriend. My parents always thought she was just a friend. To this day, my parents still don't know my husband has two sisters. They think he has only one.

I can't believe I have let this lie drag on for so long. I was young and foolish. I need to let them know because eventually it's going to come out.

My parents live out of state, so when I call them and tell them, maybe it won't be so bad. Can you suggest a better way to tell them? Now that I'm older I realize my parents were just trying to protect us and keep us out of trouble. If only I could wipe away this lie.

Please advise me. -- GUILTY IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR GUILTY: First of all, please stop feeling guilty. Dating is one of the ways that young people mature socially. Most teen-agers in this country start dating by the time they are 16. There were valid reasons for your acting the way you did. You were fortunate that the first boy you dated turned out to be a terrific husband. Your choice certainly wasn't based on experience.

The next time you speak with your parents, ask when they plan to visit. Then tell them you have a surprise for them -- they're going to meet a new member of the family. Their introduction should be made face-to-face. You are all adults now. You should no longer need your parents' permission or approval. (Frankly, I think they owe you an apology for putting you in the position they did.)

DEAR ABBY: You printed a letter from "Happy Granny in Waldo, Fla." about when to talk to children about sex. You said it reminded you of a story: Seven-year-old Tommy asked his mother where he came from. She gave him "the lecture," to which he responded, "Oh. My friend Jimmy said he came from St. Louis."

My son's father died when he was 2, so I was left to deal with the mountain of never-ending questions. Beating around the bush was unacceptable to my son. When he was 6, he asked how the baby had gotten into the stomach of a woman at church. I explained about planting seeds and flowers growing. He then proceeded to ask how the seed got planted, who planted it, and what part the daddy played in this. On and on -- until finally, after admonishing my son not to share this information with his younger friends, I gave him "the facts of life" lecture in as much detail as he seemed to want.

As long as I live, I will never forget his shocked, mortified expression as he lifted his little face to heaven and prayed, "Oh, God, isn't there any OTHER way?" -- HAPPY MOM IN NORTH CAROLINA

DEAR HAPPY MOM: From the mouths of babes. I assume he got over his shock as he grew older.

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

Abby shares her favorite recipes in two booklets: "Abby's Favorite Recipes" and "Abby's More Favorite Recipes." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $7.90 ($9 each in Canada) to: Dear Abby Cookbooklets, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in price.)

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