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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Our oldest daughter, her husband and infant son have been living with us a little over a year. My mother-in-law, "Helen," lives next door.

Helen is retired, does no volunteer work and has no social life to speak of. The problem is that she spends all her free time at our house.

Her excuse is always to see the baby, but if one of us leaves the room, Helen will spend only a few minutes with the baby, then follow us to whatever room we have escaped to.

I work full-time outside the home, so it's only a weekend problem for me. However, my daughter is home with the baby all day, and my mother-in-law is making her crazy! My son-in-law's day off was today. Helen was at the house a total of three hours by 2 p.m.

My husband won't come out and say he is bothered by his mother's frequent, lengthy visits, but the kids and I have noticed that whenever she comes over, he finds a hideout.

We have gone so far as to ignore Helen's presence as much as possible, but she doesn't take the hint. Abby, please remind the older generation that they need to stay active with people their own age and not expect their children to be their life when their own slows down. -- ANNOYED UP TO HERE, SMALL TOWN, TEXAS

DEAR ANNOYED: You haven't mentioned your mother-in-law's age, but she may have a fear of being alone. If she hasn't had a recent medical examination, she should be evaluated physically and mentally to determine if there is a problem.

If Helen is healthy, then you and your husband should make an effort to socialize her with people her own age. Investigate senior centers in your area and low-cost transportation to get her there. We all need activities outside the home.

DEAR ABBY: I have been married for eight months, but I still haven't sent out my thank-yous for our wedding gifts. I lost the list of "who got what" for us, and I don't want everyone to know how careless I am.

Some family members have asked if we are still married because they haven't received their thank-yous. Do you have any suggestions on what I can do to fix this awkward situation? -- EMBARRASSED BRIDE IN OHIO

DEAR EMBARRASSED BRIDE: Call the people and level with them. Ask what they gave you and then write those thank-you notes. They don't have to be long, flowery or fancy.

DEAR ABBY: You advised "Mother Under Pressure" to allow her 10-year-old daughter to begin shaving her legs, and I wholeheartedly agree.

I faced the same dilemma with my then 9-year-old girl. She begged me to let her shave her legs. I pitched a fit and fussed and fumed. Each time she pleaded, I refused her.

My daughter is now 22 and has gone from almost dying from anorexia to drug addiction. How I wish I had her precious childhood years back again. My advice to "Mother Under Pressure" is this: DON'T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF! -- REGRETFUL MOM IN GEORGIA

DEAR MOM: Well said. A wise parent knows how to pick her (or his) battles. I hope your daughter is soon on the road to recovery.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more sociable person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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