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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am a 62-year-old lady who has been a dedicated mother, helpful grandma and a good wife. I don't mean to imply that I'm perfect, but my heart has always been in the right place.

I'm writing now because I have a problem. I have been so used to being a mother that now I don't know how to break the habit. My children think I do too much for them, and it hurts me when they call me "annoying" and "impossible to deal with."

I wish I could act differently, but I don't know how. I've been told I need to do something with my life other than help my kids when they don't seem to need it -- and even when they do. I know I deserve to be happy, but I don't know how to start. Can you tell me what to do, Abby? -- MELANCHOLY MAMA, WENATCHEE, WASH.

DEAR MELANCHOLY: You are a successful wife and mother, having raised independent children. Now it's your turn.

Think back to before you were married and had children -- what were your interests? Was there a class or subject you wanted to take at a community college? Did you want to act in a play, paint a picture, photograph a landscape, read Shakespeare, join a hiking club, travel the U.S., learn to dance? Learn to speak French, plant a garden, raise rabbits, write a novel or the story of your life, study architecture, learn more about the stock market, raise funds for your favorite charity, or (you fill in the blank)?

If you still can't get the urge to "mother" out of your system, consider becoming a foster parent -- or volunteer at a school, children's hospital or as a literacy tutor at your local library. The possibilities are endless and the need is great.

Please let me know what you decide to do from the hundreds of options available. You have a lot to offer.

DEAR ABBY: "Jamie" and I have been close friends for almost 50 years. She has always been there for me when I needed her and vice versa. However, I can't get past her continual bragging about herself every time we meet for lunch or talk on the phone.

Jamie always manages to bring up how some person told her how young she looks, or another told her she's a wonderful manager at work, etc. Yesterday at lunch I mentioned how much I love doing crossword puzzles. I said I love learning new words and if I don't know the meaning, I look it up in my dictionary. Jamie replied she doesn't need a dictionary because she knows the meaning of all words!

Jamie is a good friend, but lately I've been wondering why she feels the need to spin tales. She is always out to impress everyone with how smart, young, savvy and sophisticated she is. She even told me some of her co-workers compare her to Jackie Kennedy, which is nowhere near the truth. Why do you think she has to act like this? -- PERPLEXED IN PHILLY

DEAR PERPLEXED: Jamie's behavior is a sign of extreme insecurity. People who are comfortable with themselves do not feel the need to constantly self-promote as she does. When your friend announced that she doesn't need a dictionary because she knows the meaning of all words, you were kind not to contradict her, because it's obvious she doesn't appear to be familiar with the definition of "humility."

Abby shares more than 100 of her favorite recipes in two booklets: "Abby's Favorite Recipes" and "More Favorite Recipes by Dear Abby." Send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $14 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet Set, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)