My parents didn't really plan for an enormous family; it just sort of happened that way. They started with five children, a number I would consider large but manageable. But one divorce and two remarriages later, I ended up as the fifth of 12 children. This registers closer to the "total chaos" end of the spectrum. Adjusting to normal life in my own much smaller family of four has been an adventure, but even my two rambunctious boys will never match the constant surge of energy that I came to expect from daily life. I've learned a few things in the process:
1. Alone time is precious. When you live in a house with 11 people and two of them also sleep in your bedroom, you become desperate for a little solitude. I could go into the office, but my brother would follow and start playing video games. Move to the living room and find a rousing argument about Barbies. Traipse up to my bedroom and discover that roommate no. 1 is glaring at me while talking to her new boyfriend on the phone. My surefire escape involved popping the screen out of my bedroom window and sitting on the garage roof. From there, I could pretend not to hear people looking for me, and I could reasonably expect to be alone for at least 20 minutes before they discovered my whereabouts. My children, by contrast, never want to be alone.
2. Alone time is really, really weird. Every weekday morning, my husband and two boys leave for daycare and work. Before I start working are a few disconcerting moments where I realize just how quiet it is. No one will challenge me if I try to lock the bathroom door. I don't even have to close the bathroom door. No one will tell me to turn down my music. And no one will be there to keep me company and tell me if my hair is all messed up.
3. Loud is normal. Kids are loud. Lots of kids are exponentially louder. Growing up, my parents let us loose in the backyard, probably to avoid long-term hearing loss.
4. Kids can hold their own. With one or two (or even three) kids, it's possible for a very dedicated parent to be involved in all of life's tiny details, helicopter-style. Multiply that by a factor of six, and it would take a drone army to achieve the same effect. I had to both remember and complete my own homework assignments, make sure my sporting events made it on to the family calendar, and speak up when I needed some help. When everyone was talking, I had to talk louder (see no. 3), or more persuasively. End result: My parents have 12 capable, independent adult children who don't need any hand-holding.
5. What's a play date? No need to tote the kids around to manufactured "play dates" when there is a built-in soccer team at your house. We hitched rides, rode bikes, or begged for a mom-taxi ride to friends' houses when we got old enough to find our siblings intolerable. Or, invite a friend over—one more won't make a difference.
6. Yours, mine, and ours, or, is it really my shirt if I'm the third "owner"? Big families are notorious for dressing everyone in hand-me-downs, and people react to this in two ways—either clinging to what is yours with the fierceness of a caged dragon or releasing all attachments to material possessions. I went the latter route and basically considered my closet triply large, thanks to my two sisters who wore the same size clothes.
7. Your family has a reputation. The first handful of siblings sets the tone with the local teachers and sports coaches, and the younger ones never really escape the precedent. For good or ill, younger children will be perpetually greeted with, "Here comes another one."
8. Every dinner is a feast. There were nine people in attendance at the first Thanksgiving meal I shared with my in-laws, and that was considered a large crowd. I kept looking around for the rest of the crew, since the group was smaller than my typical weeknight dinner.
9. Someone is always missing from the family reunion. It is almost impossible to schedule a family event that will work for every one of my siblings, so there are no hard feelings when planners pick a date that works for the majority of the group. Still, we try to be inclusive—there are photos from a recent wedding where my face is pasted onto a hula dancer cutout.
10. Chores are much worse now. My mother did not have a housekeeper, but she did have an army of reluctant helpers every Saturday morning. I would complain about vacuuming half of the house or taking out all the trash, but I wish I could have that task list back now that I split household chores with one other person instead of a dozen.
11. I'm still not sure how they did it. For years, I watched my parents bring order to the chaos—we had home-cooked meals, club sports, rousing family games of kick the can, and music lessons. Despite the firsthand experience, I still have no idea how they did it, and short of having my own dozen, I will never find out.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.