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Dear Ann Landers: My mother used to slap me around when I was young. That stopped when I became an adult, but she still tells me my house is a mess, I'm a lousy cook, and my hair never looks right. I've put up with her digs for years.

Two months ago, Mom called while I was out, and she left a message on my machine asking for my chocolate-chip cookie recipe. She thought she had hung up the phone, but apparently, it was not placed back in the cradle, and my answering machine recorded her subsequent conversation with my aunt. When I played back her message, I heard Mom tell Aunt Jane I was cheap, I don't know how to cook, she can't stand my husband, and our 9-year-old daughter is spoiled rotten.

I called my mother and told her I heard her conversation with Aunt Jane and was terribly hurt. She said: "I meant what I said, and I won't pretend otherwise. I can't take it back now." That's as close to an apology as I am going to get, and frankly, it's not enough. I have taken enough abuse from her, and I no longer want her in my life. Since the moment I made that decision, I have felt happier than ever -- but I'm still uneasy about it. Can you tell me why?

-- Feeling Unsettled in Canada
Dear Canada: You are feeling "unsettled" because you still feel a tie to your mother, and this will never change. You must find a way to rise above the bad times of the past and let your mother know you want a better relationship. Please take this small step. It will make a huge difference in your life, and in hers, too.

Rear window seat

Dear Ann Landers: I have been in a close relationship with a 38-year-old man for over a year. "Ed" has a 10-year-old daughter who came to live with him eight months ago. "Lily" is very competitive with me, which is understandable. I try to be friendly, but one thing about the girl bothers me to no end.

Every time we are in the car together, Lily insists on sitting in the front next to her daddy, which means I have to sit in the back. I think this is disrespectful to me as an adult and as Ed's significant other. Shouldn't Lily have adjusted to my presence by now? What should I do?

-- Third Wheel in Washington State
Dear Third Wheel: It is Ed's place to express himself regarding the seating in his car. You should not have to battle with his daughter about this. Talk frankly with Ed about your feelings. And be aware that this small irritation is a "preview" of things to come. Second wives have a history of difficult times with their husband's children, especially the daughters. Your work is cut out for you, dear.

Get into gear

Dear Ann Landers: I am late to work, late to church, late for hair appointments, and so on. I've been this way for years. As a teenager, I used to run down the sidewalk while the bell was ringing for class -- when I was supposed to be sitting in class.

Ann, I'm talking close to 30 years of chronic tardiness. I have set all the clocks in my house 30 minutes ahead, but it hasn't helped. Why am I like this? Is there a cure? Please explain.

-- Chronic Late Bird in Richmond, Va.
Dear Bird: You enjoy "living on the edge" -- flirting with danger. It gives you a sense of power. Instead of thinking how powerful you are, substitute this: "People will think I'm a disorganized ditz, and I will never be taken seriously." Is this the image you want? You need to find a way to honor your time commitments. Admitting you have a problem is half the battle. Now finish the job.

Problems? Dump on Ann. Write her at The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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