Dear Abby: My boyfriend and I go away once a year and leave our two toddlers with family. This year, their aunt couldn't watch them, so we asked his cousin "Renee," who we have always liked, to watch them. She agreed, and we paid her $150 for the weekend. We also bought food she liked and stocked the cupboards with foods the kids eat. We knew Renee was having difficulty because her husband just lost his job, and they are about to be homeless (not because of his job loss). We explained the kids' routine and left.

When we got back, she yelled at us for taking longer than expected to get home (due to circumstances out of our control) and stormed out. We realized after she left that almost all the food we had bought for her and our kids was unopened. The packs of diapers were also unopened, and a lot of their clothes were stiff from urine. The next day, when his dad gave him his breakfast, our 2-year-old started wailing and ate twice as much as normal.

We are at a loss as to why Renee neglected our kids, since she always seemed like a great mom to her own. My boyfriend is extremely angry and struggling with guilt. I just want to tell his cousin off and never speak to her again. Your thoughts?

-- Furious Out West

Dear Furious: I don't blame you and your boyfriend for feeling as you do. But I don't think telling his cousin off and never speaking to her again would get you the answers you deserve. There must be a reason why your children's needs were neglected.

You say her children seem to be fine. Before writing her off, take a closer look at her children, because this may be how they are being treated, too. And if that's the case, the family, and possibly child protective services, should be made aware of it.

Hard time with time

Dear Abby: Lately, I've noticed something curious with responses to the question, "What time?" when setting a date. When people offer to do something for me, I'll ask, "What time would be best?" Rather than answer, they go on to ask me 12 different questions, and we get nowhere. I just want them to choose a time! If it's not good for us, I'll tell them.

Personally, I feel if they're doing us a favor, they get to choose the time. It's incredibly frustrating being stuck in a game of, "Well, what time is good for YOU?" back and forth for five minutes. I just want an answer. Then I can make it work or offer another suggestion if need be. I never had this problem before, but now it's happening fairly often, particularly with women over 40. Is there another way I should handle this?

-- Scheduling In Spokane

Dear Scheduling: These people may be trying to be considerate by asking the questions they do. When the back-and-forth starts, all you have to say is, "Tell me when you'll be here and we'll be ready," and I'm sure they will comply.

* * *

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." Send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $7 to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)

Dear Abby is written by Jeanne Phillips for Universal Press Syndicate. Write to Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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