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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Nine years ago, my sister and I gave birth on the same day. Her daughter lived; my son died the next day.

At my niece's birthday parties my family insists on bringing gifts for my deceased son. My niece opens his gifts and my mother and sister then take them to the cemetery. They also order a special birthday cake for him along with the one for my niece.

I have tried telling them several times that this is confusing to my 6-year-old son, and it depresses my husband and me. My husband refuses to attend any more of my niece's birthday parties until the gifts/cake for our deceased son stop, and I'm about ready to join him.

Are we being "too uptight," as my family says, and is this behavior on the part of my family normal? Are we right to ask them to stop? And how do we convey this to them without hurting their feelings again? -- MOURNING MOTHER IN BIG SPRING, TEXAS

DEAR MOURNING MOTHER: The practice of taking gifts to the deceased does occur in other cultures, and is considered normal in those cultures. However, for your mother and sister to insist upon doing so when you and your husband have told them that it causes you pain is wrong. Tell them before the next party that you do not want it to happen, and exactly why. If they disregard your wishes, follow your husband's lead and skip the parties, too.

DEAR ABBY: I can't seem to grow up. I think I may have something similar to a Peter Pan complex. I often fantasize about my childhood. I miss it more than I should. I am a 25-year-old female.

I also do things that people usually do at younger ages. I put stickers all over everything. I like coloring books, and feel comfortable in kids' clothing. I watch youth-oriented TV shows people my age are not interested in.

I'm in college, and try hard to put these things behind me, but it's a constant battle. They stay in the forefront of my mind. With each passing year it gets harder to hide.

My parents think I act this way for attention, but it's embarrassing and I often don't realize that I'm doing something childish. In contrast, my big brother (age 29) is out of college, married and leading a positive, normal life. Do I need help? -- CHILDISH ADULT

DEAR CHILDISH ADULT: When someone is a child, she isn't ready to assume the responsibilities of adulthood. But when an adult clings to the trappings of childhood as you have, it may be because the responsibilities -- and privileges -- of adulthood are in some way threatening. Do you need help? Possibly, because what's going on is troubling you. And the place to find it is in the counseling department of your student health center.

DEAR ABBY: While in a department store recently, I lost my credit cards, driver's license, important papers and a sizable sum of money. Two employees called me later to say they had found my belongings.

When I returned to the store to pick up my things, I presented the young women with a basket of fruits and chocolate along with my thanks. Some friends told me I was wrong not to reward them with money. Did I do the right thing? -- IN LUCK IN NEW YORK

DEAR IN LUCK: It was thoughtful of you to bring the fruits and chocolate, but if the "sizable sum of money" was still in your wallet, it would have been "sweeter" had you given them some money in addition.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)