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.
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.