In order to be a really good mother (and/or survive the experience of raising kids), a woman must have a sense of humor, a strong stomach, a never- ending supply of patience and an uncanny ability to zero in on all the best sales in town.

This last quality is especially important. Kids who usually don't notice that their mom is as patient as a nested hen, as able to laugh at stale jokes as a politician, or as stalwart when it comes to cleaning up messes as a nurse in a dysentery ward, are well aware of her habit of stretching dollar bills by refusing to buy anything that isn't marked down.And they use it to the limit!

"My friend Brandon says he'll sell me half a box of Lucky Charms for 50 percent off," my daughter Christie tells me when I refuse to buy anything but no-name non-sweetened cold cereal.

"Troy's mother knows where you can buy Nike pumps for skinny bucks," hints my son Michael.

And one little boy, who shall remain unnamed, got a demerit for not having a pencil at school and used the alibi that his mom wouldn't buy him a new one until they went on sale.

My friend Debbie has an even better story. Several days ago she accompanied her 5-year-old son Andrew, a devout animal lover, to a children's petting zoo set up by local FFA students. The students had trucked in a variety of living creatures from several different farms, with each little pig, lamb, calf and colt bearing an identifying tag or brand.

When the somewhat wistful Andrew, caught sight of a lamb with a bright blue tag dangling from its ear, he joyfully exclaimed, "Look, Mommy! That one's on sale!"