Sometime ago I learned from my friend Golda that the proper collective noun for a large family of kids was "gaggle." I knew she was right when I thought about the mess our seven children made the last time we took them all out to eat at the same time. It was enough to make anyone "gaggle."

That was years ago. These days we either order take-out food or entertain our children one by one.Even that has its hazards. Just last week we took our 13-year-old son out to celebrate his birthday.

"I look like a nerd," he said, tugging on his Sunday clothes as we sat down to a linen-draped table in an upscale eating establishment.

"You look like someone who belongs in a fancy restaurant," I said, wishing I dared kiss the flushed spot on his cheek.

"No McDonalds for you tonight! No Hardees, no Wendy's, not even Burger King! This year we're celebrating big time."

"It's this young man's birthday," my husband explained to the cumberbunded waiter who had come to stand beside us with his memorized speech.

"If you haven't decided on an entree, could I suggest the chicken cordon bleu? The breaded veal? Fillet of halibut?"

That was when the Birthday Boy began studying his menu like a bad report card.

"I can't find the hamburgers," he said.

"He'll have the cordon bleu," my husband intervened.

Golda laughed when I told her that story. Golda has 10 years' parenting experience on me.

"Just wait until he's 16," she warned me before launching into a story of her own about the last time she and her husband, Hasbin, took one of their sons out to eat. Their 16-year-old didn't take long to decide what he wanted. He took one look at the bill of fare with its list of entrees and prices and let out a low whistle.

"I'll have the lobster," he announced.

"Are you sure that's what you want, son?" Golda asked when she was finally able to stop choking. "Why you've never even tasted lobster!"

"I know," the boy admitted, "But anything that costs that much must be pretty darn good!"

That was when Golda's husband intervened. He reached decisively across the table, took the menu from the boy's hands and folded it, before addressing the waiter.

"My son has changed his mind," he said. "He'll have the chicken, please."