Excerpt #2 from Out of the Chaos: Notes on Raising Nine Independent Children
By Lex de Azevedo, President of Two Little Hands Productions, and father of Rachel Coleman and Emilie Brown, the creators of Signing Time
From 1974 through 1986, because I worked in the music business, we lived in a community called Toluca Lake outside of Los Angeles. I was determined that living in the city would not deprive my children of the opportunity to work. Since life in Los Angeles required year-round mowing, edging, raking, and weeding, I felt this would be the ideal opportunity to teach the kids to work. I bought all the necessary garden tools including a gas mower, edger, and weeder, and started to train the kids how maintain a yard and even how to wash and detail the cars.
The next-door neighbor, an old man named Jim, laughed at me. “It ain’t going to work,” he chided. “I’ll give you one, two months at the most and you’ll be hiring a gardener.”
“Look, I’m not mowing lawns, I’m raising kids!” I replied.
Well, there weren’t many kids in our neighborhood, let alone families with nine children, so I doubt if the neighbors understood. I have to admit that trying to manage a team of gardeners ranging in ages from 2 to 18 was less than fun. Just more chaos! Our yard never did look as good as the neighbors and every Saturday left me exhausted and stressed, yelling and screaming. Sometimes I was so frustrated with the kids that by the end of the day we weren’t talking. Their allowance was based on the fulfilling of their chores – and children never seem to have the same standards for completion as parents do. Again and again I was tempted just to hire a gardener, but then, I wasn’t maintaining a yard, I was raising kids.
A particular Saturday in May 1984 comes to mind. The troops were roused early and everyone given their personal assignment. Rachel, then age nine, was going to learn how to wash the new Mercedes under my close supervision. I backed the Mercedes halfway out of the garage so as to give us enough light to see what we were doing without putting it in the direct sun light. Things were going well until Lex Jr. declared that he had finished weeding the south flowerbed. In the few minutes that I took to inspect his work, Rachel accidentally dropped the wet, soapy sponge in the driveway, picked it up again and continued washing the car with the gravel-filled sponge. My new sedan was now scratched from bumper to bumper. I was furious – not at her, but at myself. Sensing she had done something wrong, she got embarrassed and started to cry. I gave her a hug, comforted her, and put her inside the car with the new, safer assignment of dusting the dashboard with a soft cloth. Leaving Rachel once more, I then went across the yard to help my daughter Julie who had run over the hose with the lawnmower. Then I heard Rachel screaming “Daaaaaadddddddyyyyyy!” We all watched helplessly as the garage door came down upon the hood of the new sedan. I had left the garage door opener on the seat and Rachel had knelt on it by accident. No, this was not a Chevy Chase movie. This was real life. Our life!
I never expected parenting to be easy, but that Saturday was definitely a low point. I was ready to throw in the towel. My neighbor, Jim, had been right. I was beaten. I was defeated. I was done! But just like the pain of childbirth is soon forgotten, the following Saturday, the troops and I were back at it again. For some reason I just couldn’t quit- couldn’t give up the idea that teaching the kids to work was an important part of raising responsible children.
Through the perspective of time, I see more clearly the good that came from those Saturdays doing yard work. It was like the troops and I went through “boot camp” together and came out a “team.” Bonds of love were forged and the children became best friends. No one can say for sure that it was the pulling of the weeds and the cleaning of the street gutters that made nine children hard workers and the responsible adults they are today, but I suspect that it made a difference. By the way, looking back, I wouldn’t trade the memory of those Saturdays together for the finest lawn in Southern California.
When asked to write his original article, Lex began to write page after page of hilarious incidents in the life of the Azevedo family: nine children, two parents, and one cockapoo terrier mutt in the prime Hollywood suburb of Toluca Lake. Watch for humorous and insightful anecdotes from Lex’s Out of the Chaos.