One Big Happy Fam­ily

The Re­bel­los have 12 kids. It takes su­per­hu­man or­ga­ni­za­tion, in­fi­nite pa­tience and epic weekly gro­cery runs to make their lives work.

Toronto Life - - Contents - By Luc Ri­naldi

Liz and Steve Re­bello have 12 kids. It takes su­per­hu­man plan­ning, in­fi­nite pa­tience and epic weekly gro­cery runs to make their lives work. Por­trait of a mam­moth mod­ern fam­ily

liz and steve re­bello used to be the sort of cou­ple who thought one kid might be enough. Af­ter dat­ing through high school, they mar­ried in 1997 and had their first daugh­ter, Christina, nine months later. Liz wasn’t sure she wanted to do it all over again. That bit of Re­bello lore is now a run­ning fam­ily joke, be­cause Liz did do it again. Eleven more times. She’s been preg­nant for the bet­ter part of the past 20 years. “I would for­get I was ex­pect­ing,” she says. “It just be­came such a nor­mal part of who I was. Peo­ple would say con­grat­u­la­tions and I’d be like, ‘Why? Oh, right!’ ” To­day, the cou­ple have 12 chil­dren—a vi­brant, warm and amaz­ingly func­tional brood crammed into a rau­cous five-bed­room home in Mis­sis­sauga.

A full house has al­ways felt fa­mil­iar to Liz and Steve: she’s one of five kids; he’s one of 11. As their fam­ily be­gan to mush­room, they out­grew their homes like a tween out­grow­ing his shoes: they left Steve’s par­ents’ base­ment

for a two-bed­room house, then an­other, fol­lowed by a fourbed­room house and, even­tu­ally, their cur­rent home. Liz gave up a part-time job as a sup­ply teacher to stay with the kids, while Steve got work as a steel man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­ec­u­tive and pur­sued an MBA at Schulich. “Peo­ple laughed be­cause I’d go into class one year with a cou­ple of young kids,” he says. “The next, it was four. Then six.”

In 2010, af­ter the birth of Mon­ica, their 10th, Liz had a mis­car­riage. Her body was ex­hausted, and she wor­ried that try­ing again might pre­vent her from tak­ing care of the kids she al­ready had. The cou­ple took a year off from hav­ing ba­bies. When her health im­proved, she got right back to it, de­liv­er­ing two more kids in as many years. By then, the el­dest two were nearly done high school. “At mass, Rachel would hold Matthew, and peo­ple would think she was his mom,” Liz says, laugh­ing.

To an out­sider, run­ning the Re­bello house­hold seems as com­pli­cated as quan­tum com­put­ing, but they have sys­tems for ev­ery­thing. On the kitchen cal­en­dar, each day is an im­pos­si­ble scramble of ex­ams, soc­cer games, birth­days and ap­point­ments. Next to the cal­en­dar, a ro­tat­ing weekly job list di­vides chores: ev­ery crumby coun­ter­top, smudgy mir­ror and brown-bag lunch has a kid as­signed to it. On any given day, there are up to three dif­fer­ent break­fasts and just as many lunches, though din­ners are al­ways a full-fam­ily af­fair. Ev­ery Mon­day, Liz drags a dif­fer­ent kid along for er­rands or a walk to make sure she gets one-onone time with each of them; ditto for Steve’s Satur­day gro­cery hauls. The cou­ple make sure they have a date night once a week—no kids al­lowed. “If you don’t sched­ule it,” says Steve, “it’s not go­ing to hap­pen.”

One perk of hav­ing a dozen kids packed in fast and fu­ri­ous is that things re­cy­cle: Rebecca’s clothes be­come Theresa’s; Joseph’s toys be­come Luke’s. There are enough skates, boots and soc­cer cleats in the Re­bello base­ment to open an un­of­fi­cial Foot Locker fran­chise. Friends and neigh­bours rou­tinely drop hand-me-downs off at the house, know­ing they’ll go to good use, while lo­cal bak­eries some­times de­liver day-old bread and pas­tries to their door. Once, when the fam­ily went to Tucker’s for din­ner, a cou­ple at a nearby ta­ble paid their bill be­cause they were so floored by how well the kids be­haved.

Christina grad­u­ated from Ge­orge Brown’s culi­nary pro­gram ear­lier this year and now works in the kitchen at a stu­dent res­i­dence. Rachel stud­ies at U of T and hopes to be­come a teacher. An­drew, Daniel and Joseph at­tend St. Michael’s Col­lege School. Rebecca at­tends Hawthorn School for Girls with two of her sis­ters, Theresa and Mon­ica. The en­er­getic trio of Thomas, Luke and Ka­t­rina are home-schooled, and Matthew, the lit­tlest Re­bello, will soon join them.

Liz has home-schooled each of the kids for at least a year. It keeps com­mutes more man­age­able and helps with fi­nances. The kids don’t have RESPs—in­stead, Liz and Steve will loan kids money for post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion as they need it. “That way, when one pays us back, they pay for the next.”

Rebecca, the next Re­bello in line for univer­sity, looks for­ward to the anonymity of post-sec­ondary life, where teach­ers won’t feel ob­li­gated to tell her about how many of her sib­lings they’ve taught. “In Grade 7 and 8, I was em­bar­rassed by my fam­ily,” she says. “But once I was in high school, I found a group of friends who loved my fam­ily. I re­al­ized, Ev­ery­one else loves my fam­ily. Why don’t I?”

11:42 a.m. Luke and Ka­t­rina study while Daniel, Rachel and An­drew, who are all off school for the sum­mer, eat lunch.

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