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MUM'S NOT THE WORD

Dear Miss Manners: Before I had children, I had a name. Since then, Mum seems to be my name outside my family from doctors, nurses and teachers, from salespersons and countless others.

I have had an ongoing battle with myself not to let it bother me. But it does! I wonder if there is a gracious answer.

Gentle Reader: Strangers and acquaintances must be discouraged from the newborn-duckling approach of fastening on the first warm body they happen to see and mistaking it for Mum.

You may reasonably fail to respond to this appellation. If anyone indicates more clearly that you are being addressed, you need only reply: "Oh, I'm sorry; I didn't realize you meant me. Only my children call me that."

Miss Manners realizes this goes against maternal instinct. When any child shouts "Ma-ma!" in a grocery store, every lady within earshot turns around, including those who didn't bring their children.

Nevertheless, mothers understand the importance of training. And because the people you mention are probably not looking for mothering but are simply trying to catch your attention, they will eventually be discouraged from using a method that does not work.

Family quarrel

Dear Miss Manners: My partner and I had my mother, brother and sister over for Thanksgiving. I was very put off by the fact neither my brother nor my sister offered to help clean up after dinner. They just left the room. My mother offered and I refused.

I told them I was upset over this, and now we are not speaking. My therapist said that when she has people over for dinner, she does not expect them to do dishes. I felt they were rude, uncaring and took the situation for granted -- plus, as they are family, I expected more. This happens every time they come over. Am I not being a good hostess, or do I have a rude family?

Gentle Reader: To answer the second question first: Dear, yes, Miss Manners is afraid that you do have at least one rude person in your family, maybe more.

There is more than one proper system for dividing the work of entertaining. Some hostesses are grateful for help and others find it a nuisance; some guests offer help and others do everything when they entertain and assume their hosts will, too. The polite solution is not to presume and sulk, but to discover through civil offers and rejections which system is agreeable, without having to drag in outsiders whom it does not affect, such as Miss Manners and your therapist.

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