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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am a lifeguard at a public swimming pool. Please inform parents that the presence of a lifeguard does not guarantee the safety of their children.

Young children don't have the maturity to understand the risks posed by water and often will not stay in the depth that is safe for them. Besides giving verbal warnings that can go unheeded, there is little a lifeguard in a tower 30 feet away can do to keep a child out of deep water. Also, drowning is silent. Victims can hardly breathe and therefore cannot scream for help.

One day last summer, my co-workers and I rescued five children. They were all under the age of 6, all unattended, and all were drowning within a few feet of other swimmers. No one but us realized anything was wrong. One of those kids was a 5-year-old girl whom I had repeatedly told to stay in the shallow pool.

Parents, PLEASE don't let the eyes of a lifeguard be all that stands between your child and death. We do our job well, but we're only human. Swim with your inexperienced younger kids, and stay within arm's reach at all times. -- CONCERNED LIFEGUARD IN THE ROCKIES

DEAR CONCERNED: Children should be taught to swim as early as possible. And they need to be taught the rules of water safety. Even then they should be supervised AT ALL TIMES at both public and private swimming pools. To do anything less is to invite a tragedy.

And while we're on the subject of near disasters in the water -- read on:

DEAR ABBY: While swimming at a New Jersey beach, my husband became caught in a riptide. He struggled to swim toward land, but the current pulled him farther and farther out to sea.

There were several adults nearby. He pleaded for help several times, but got no response. He was later told that they thought he was only kidding!

Luckily, a boy about 12 years old took him seriously. The boy swam toward my husband and extended a boogie board for him to grab. By then, my husband was completely exhausted and out of breath. With the boy's help, and later that of a lifeguard, my husband was brought safely back to shore.

Abby, please inform your readers that when a person pleads for help in ANY situation, the person should be taken seriously! It is far better to offer assistance or to seek additional help than to assume it's only a joke. My husband firmly believes that if that boy had not tried to help, he would not be here today. -- ELEANOR M. GLENSIDE, PA.

DEAR ELEANOR: Your husband is a lucky man. His experience proves that sometimes children are smarter than adults. The boy who came to his rescue is a true hero.

DEAR ABBY: I love my boyfriend very much and am planning to offer him a proposal of marriage. We have a child together, and I feel it's time for me to grab life by the horns and run with it.

Is there any rule of etiquette that says I have to buy him a gift -- and if so, what should it be? I'm clear on where our wedding should take place, the decorations, guest list, etc., but it's this last detail of gift-or-no-gift before I pop the question that I'm not sure about. -- HOPEFUL BRIDE-TO-BE, COLUMBIA, MO.

DEAR HOPEFUL: I think the child was gift enough. Give him nothing extra unless he says yes to your proposal.

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