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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am 11 years old, and my life is so complicated I don't know what to do. I am tired and have no time to spend with family and friends.

My weekly after-school schedule:

Monday -- advanced math school

Tuesday -- ice skating

Wednesday -- advanced math school

Thursday -- gymnastics

Friday -- piano lessons

Saturday -- soccer

Sunday -- math homework

Abby, I have at least five extremely hard homework assignments to do every night in addition to those given in the advanced math school. Please help a girl in need! -- NICOLE IN MASSACHUSETTS

DEAR NICOLE: It appears a compromise is in order. If you haven't already talked to your parents about this, you should do so. If that doesn't help, then you need to enlist the help of a teacher, clergyperson or some other respected adult who can help your parents understand that they have you so tightly scheduled you have no time left for a childhood. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I have observed something that is taking place all across the country. Whenever a child becomes involved in any kind of team sport (soccer, T-ball, etc.), he or she may be invited to join a "traveling team."

These traveling teams spend many hours commuting to and from their out-of-town games and meets, spending time on the highway that could be better used in imaginative play, reading, homework, or building relationships and memories with their families and friends.

Many times these long-distance games are held on school nights, resulting in late-night returns, with too little time left for homework or sufficient sleep.

I've known a first-grade girl involved in cheerleading who attended a five-day "national competition" in another state and missed school to do it. This is a girl who, because of poor performance, needed every day of school she could get.

Abby, please ask parents to consider carefully how they deal with children's sports and activities. When some overeager coach or starry-eyed parent approaches with the idea for traveling teams and national competitions for the kids, have the guts to say no. -- KIDS' FRIEND IN OKLAHOMA

DEAR KIDS' FRIEND: Although many team sports offer the chance for bonding and camaraderie, as well as developing teamwork skills, too many parents become so fixated on success that they lose sight of what is important. Above all, they should be certain that their children want to participate in the sports they're being signed up for.

DEAR ABBY: I identified strongly with the letters from readers who graduated from college at an advanced age. Most were between 35 and 45 when they graduated.

When I graduated from high school, I was ranked 150 out of a class of 152. However, at age 59, I graduated in 1990 from Baldwin-Wallace College with a 3.79 grade point average. Even at 59, I was able to advance in my work, and eventually earned $75,000 a year by the time I retired at age 71.

Which goes to show you that it's never too late. -- ESTELLE IN LAKEWOOD, OHIO

DEAR ESTELLE: That's true. I'm a firm believer in happy endings. Your letter is sure to inspire more late bloomers that it's never too late to achieve one's dreams.

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