September 16 was always a great day during my childhood. Once per year, every year, for at least 18 years, it was the only day I got to decide what I would eat for dinner. It was my birthday.
With 12 kids, a husband, and various guests in the house every evening, my mother would had to have been crazy to take orders and try to satisfy everyone. So every day, she surveyed the pantry and made the decision herself regarding what everyone in the family would be eating that night. The only time this wasn't the case was on someone's birthday. Then the royal treatment was bestowed, and everyone had to eat your favorite that night. I remember what each person's favorite was and the look of pride and satisfaction on each one's face when it was served. I also remember the rarely successful negotiations my siblings and I undertook in trying to influence the birthday kid's choice. Everyone understood the value of the opportunity in front of them. No one was naïve enough to let that feeling of power and freedom of choice slip by for another year.
Lucky for us, the meals, although undemocratically chosen for us, were always enjoyable—and always welcomed as something we didn't have to do for ourselves. The fact was, there was a lot you had to do for yourself from a young age in a family this big. For the record, Mom was a fair-minded person and a believer in free will, so for the 364 days of the year on which the meal choice was not up to you, an alternative meal of cereal and milk ...