From Rachel: Happy Birthday, Emilie!

Rachel and Emilie 2009
Rachel and Emilie 2009

I was four years old and she was eight when we decided that we were best friends.

Little Emilie and Rachel
Little Emilie and Rachel

“You’re my best,” she said.

“You’re my best, too.” I answered.

And that’s how it was.

In some ways it was a simple rendition of the reality-TV show Survivor – Emilie and I had an early alliance. We had to, you see; in a family of nine kids, there were ongoing battles with the other siblings, and even though it seemed that it might be easier at times to join forces with the stronger ones, Emilie and I instinctively stuck together.

I was good at flying under the radar.  Emilie was not.

Believe it or not, I was the “shy” and “quiet” one.  I didn’t want attention, and I would duck and seek cover from any potential limelight. Emilie, however, was “outgoing” and “motivated.”  She loved attention and I could always count on her to volunteer for every speaking opportunity or solo music performance that came within arm’s reach.

Rachel with Emilie, the Kindergarten Graduate
Rachel with Emilie, the Kindergarten Graduate

Emilie had begun plotting out her entertainment career at an early age. As my dad mentioned in a blog post last year, she hired an acting agent at age seven and began auditioning for commercials and television, and by age twelve she had a full-fledged voiceover career. I loved coming home from elementary school to watch our favorite show, an anime saga called Robotech, and it was so cool that my sister Emilie was one of the voices. (She voiced a red-haired, motorcycle helmet-wearing girl named Annie on Robotech, the New Generation. )

Sure, there were also times we didn’t get along, like the time I moved in with her for the summer when she was in college.  She would come home and find me watching “Pretty Woman” or some other show and she would ask, “What did you do today?”

“Nothing, just watched movies,” I’d say.

To which she’d reply, “How can you feel good about yourself?  You didn’t get anything done!”

“Emilie, it’s summer.”

Our first "Production" - Little Red Riding Hood Emilie and Rachel the Big Bad Wolf
Little Red Riding Hood Emilie, and Rachel the Big Bad Wolf (naturally, Emilie did the casting on this "production")

That was the biggest difference between us and probably still is.  Emilie is always scheming and dreaming up the next big thing and I am trying to enjoy my summer.

When Leah was two years old and Alex was one, I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Emilie lived in Los Angeles.  I flew to LA to do some Pampered Chef® shows for Emilie and some of her friends. (Yes, I was once a Pampered Chef® Consultant, mostly in hopes of overcoming my debilitating fear of being in front of people.)  When I arrived at her apartment, she said, “Ray, check it out!  The apartment right across from mine is empty.  You guys should move in!”

Coleman and Brown Families in Los Angeles
Coleman and Brown Families in Los Angeles

There was a stairway with two doors at the top.  One door was hers. Within a matter of months, the other door became mine.  Aaron and I moved to L.A. because there was an empty apartment next to my sister Emilie.  That is CRAZY!  We had no jobs. We were parenting a deaf toddler.  Crazy!

Neighbors, cousins, and best friends; Alex and Leah grew up together. They got their first haircuts together.  Alex came along to all of our sign language classes.

Baby Alex and Baby Leah
Baby Alex and Baby Leah getting their first haircut

When I was on bed rest for ten weeks during my pregnancy with Lucy, being next door to my sister seemed heaven-sent. Leah had a built-in playmate. We had meals. We had backup.

A few years later, Emilie and family moved to Virginia.  I cried for weeks when they moved.  I never felt more alone.  We talked on the phone every day and it was around that time that Emilie called me, asking me if I wanted to make a video for kids – the video that eventually became Signing Time.  We joked that it was just a good excuse to be together.

Originally Alex and Leah were meant to teach the signs in Signing Time.  After watching the first rough edit, Emilie told me that I had to be in the show to model the signs.  I was horrified.  She said, “I can’t do it, Ray. You are Leah’s mom. You can.”

Emilie with Alex, Rachel with Leah in a news article
Emilie with Alex, Rachel with Leah in a news article

When the show was almost complete, Emilie asked me to write a theme song, even though I had stopped writing music after we found out Leah was deaf.  She said, “I know you say you’re not a singer.  I know you say you’re not a songwriter anymore.  But you’re the closest thing we’ve got, so go write me a song.”  That day, I ended up writing two songs, “The Signing Time Theme” and “Show Me a Sign.”   As I imagine you know, almost 100 songs followed.  So, don’t get mad at me when one of my songs gets stuck in your head – get mad at Emilie!

Most of you wouldn’t be able to pick Emilie out of a crowd. It’s crazy really. I get a lot of applause. I get a lot of awards. But really, I would still be home on the couch watching “Pretty Woman” if it wasn’t for my older sister.

Em, thanks for pushing me, ‘cause I sure wasn’t going to push myself!

Happy Birthday.  You’re still my best.


Rachel and Emilie in 2004
Rachel and Emilie in 2004

46 thoughts on “From Rachel: Happy Birthday, Emilie!”

  1. Happy Birthday Emilie! Thanks for pushing Rachel and putting together Signing Time. It has really meant a lot to so many of us.

  2. Happy Birthday Emilie!! You guys have been great friends to me too and I am so glad you pushed Rachel and the two of you created Signing Time. Our family loves it, and I am so glad I was able to be a small part of it.

  3. Happy Birthday to You, Emilie!

    We love and appreciate what has come from your efforts, ideas, and ambition! When I had the pleasure of meeting Rachel & Aaron, I just had to ask about you! So great to hear it in Rachel’s words again, just how wonderful you are!

    Again, Happy Birthday to You!


  4. Thank you for sharing a little background on your story-what a great tribute. My son (20 months) loves the Signing Time DVDs – they are actually the only DVDs he will sit down and watch! I am anxiously awaiting when our daughter (3 months) can watch too! Thanks again and Happy Birthday Emilie!!

  5. Happy Birthday Emilie and Congratulations Ladies! You have created something very special that we share with all our parents and families who come to us asking about sign language classes. There just aren’t enough of them but we encourage them to start with “Signing Time” DVDs. Everyone is in agreement – “They are Wonderful!” So, Thank you both!
    Staff of NVRC (Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons)

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this. It is so nice to really see and understand how it all came together. Out son Ezra was born Deaf in 05. Our main source for many of our core signing in the beginning was SigningTimes. Our youngest 15 months now is stuck to the tv when we put it on. Your videos makes learning fun, not just work!!! To this Day and he is almost 5, Ezra loves to sit and indulge him self in the movies. He gets excited when he sees the little kids sign…Now he is big, and so long ago he says he was little like them. Thanks again. Really helped our family adjust to what could have been a very difficult transition.

  7. Hau`oli La Hanau, ia oe, Emele (am-el-lay) from the Big Island!
    My 23 month old grandson is an avid Baby Signing Time lover and frequently asks for it by sign and voice. He has the whole Baby Signing Times series and a few extra. His vocabulary is immense and we attribute this to Baby Signing Times. His mom & dad constantly signed with him since he was 5 months old. I am a speech-language pathologist and I have never heard another child at this age use 6-8 word sentences before. He adjuncts signing with speech occasionally, but he certainly has remembered all the signs even though he uses the words. MAHALO nui for being the BEST–not just to your sister–but for all of the families! I now recommend Signing Times to all my families I work with and of course have purchased some for my nieces for their families!
    A BIG ALOHA for a blessed day!

    Genie Ruddle, M.A., CCC-SLP

  8. Happy Birthday, Emilie! I have such fond memories of you from Village Christian days when you and my sister Charisse were in 5th grade together! (I still have pix of you dancing with Chip and Dale at Disneyland on Charisse’s b-day!) 🙂 I never imagined that our paths would cross again (if not in person at least via Signing Time), but I’m so glad they did! My youngest, who is almost 2 was born with a moderate-severe hearing loss due to aural atresia in her right ear and when I decided to teach her to sign, Charisse told me that you and Rachel were doing “something with sign language for babies” and sent me the link to Signing Time! 🙂

    Colette LOVES Baby Signing Time; thanks to you and Rachel for opening up the world of ASL to her!


    Carina Thursby (nee Cardenas)

  9. Happy Birthday, Emilie! Thank you for pushing Rachel! And thank you for making this a huge one. My kids loves watching Signing Time! They learn so much from you guys too! Thank you!

  10. Happy Birthday Emilie. THANK YOU for pushing your sister and THANK YOU for your vision. We love everything Two Little Hands Productions does 🙂

  11. One of my five granddaughters has Apraxia. She is anable to talk except for a couple of words. Your Singing Time DVD’s are the only thing she will watch on TV. She has them memorized and does the signs before Rachel or the children sign them. As grandparents we watch them so we can understand what she is signing and can be a part of her conversation. Thank you Emilie for encouraging Rachel to develop the programs. Please continue to add more and add some for older children as my granddaughter is now 6 and ready for more! Happy Birthday.

  12. Tears pour…

    THANK you for sharing with us, the BOND between you two, and the combined efforts that our family has enjoyed so much!

    Mom to six girls

  13. Your ideas have changed America. Now many others are learning to sign including myself and sign language is being offered in more high schools and universities. Thank you and Happy Birthday

  14. Happy Birthday, Emilie! My daughter, Laura, is 21 today and my sister, Ann, turns 60 the day before yours. Can I ask a question? I watch the credits closely on the Signing Time videos and I see the de Azevedo name. Are you and Rachel connected with the King Family somehow? I used to love their music.

    Hope you have a good day!

  15. Happy Birthday, Emilie and Thank you, Rachel!!! Aside from being one of the newest members of your “signing family”, you have reminded of my own best friend….so I just called my sister, Debbi, just to say “hi!” She’s only 1/2 hour away, but she’s always been my best!!! Happiest of everything to you both!!

  16. Thank you thank you thank you! And a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!! The two of you have created something truly amazing that has changes our lives. Thank you for sharing such intimacies of your lives with us.

  17. Em and Ray,

    God Bless You a Million Gazillion Times! You will never know (or perhaps you do), what you have done! Thank you again.


  18. Feliz Cumpleanos Emilie!!! My 2 1/2 years old boy “Mateo” loves Signing Time.
    Muchas gracias por tu excelente trabajo!!!

  19. Happy B-day Emilie!
    Reading about and Rachel reminds me of my relationship with my sister. We have always gotten along great. I wish She lived close to me but that’s not possible. We talk most every day. It’s wonderful having a sister.
    Thanks to you and Rachel for working on signing time for our children. I have a 5 year old and a 18month old and they both enjoy the videos. I hope one day they both learn ASL. My son is bilingual (Engish-Spanish), I hope ASL is his 3rd language. My daughter has spina bifida and unilateral hearing loss, so I hope signing ASL opens doors to help with her disabilities.

  20. Dear Emilie,

    Have a wonderful Jan. 26th!! I hope the day will be perfect in all ways for you!! You have affected so many lives in such a great and positive way! Thank you!!!!

  21. Blessings to you both – even a small share of what you have cast far and wide to the rest of us will overwhelm you.

  22. LISA: Thank you! That makes it ALL worthwhile. (Rachel doesn’t need much pushing anymore-I can barely keep up! LOL)
    GENEVE: You were a BIG part of it back when we were very small:) We were just talking about you last week. Thanks for always being a support!
    JEANNINE: I was honored to read it. I am glad you enjoyed it too. Hugs!
    ROBMONROE: The only thing better than having a sister who is a great writer, is having a sister who writes great things about you. 🙂 LOL. Thanks for the birthday wishes!
    RENEECOLE: Thanks, Renee! I am amazed as I look back and remember how it all began. I think Rachel and I have made a great team.
    CHRISTY: I am so glad your son loves Signing Time! Even though your daughter doesn’t watch yet, make sure to sign with her now. I am amazed at the tiny ones who are signing earlier and earlier thanks to moms like you! 🙂
    NVRC: Oh! My dear friends at the NVRC! I so appreciate how helpful and wonderful you were when I would come to your office when I lived in Vienna. Thank you for helping so many people!
    PATIENCE: Thank you for sharing your story! Hugs for Ezra and your 15 mo. old little one. I am glad Signing Time was there when you needed it.
    GENIE RUDDLE: Aloha! Thank you for sharing your story with us and for sharing ST with family and clients’ families. I am always excited and amazed when I hear about the advanced vocabularies of so many signing children. I would sure love to be in Hawaii right now!
    CARINA: Wow! What memories. (I want to see that Disneyland pic:) Hugs to you, Charisse, Colette, and your other kiddos. Thanks for getting in touch!
    JENNY: Thanks, Jenny! Ya know, my kids and I learn from Signing Time, too! With every new show we expand our vocab right along with you!
    JACLYN: The fun thing is there is no more pushing Rachel–she is off and running and I can barely keep up now! I am so glad you enjoy our work. 🙂
    CAROL: 5 granddaughters! I am so glad you all enjoy Signing Time. I giggle when I read that you want more shows. Between 26 Signing Times, 4 Baby Signing Times, 2 Practice Times, a Story Time, and a Sing & Sign DVD, I keep thinking one day someone is going to say “Enough Already!” Not yet! Thank you for the encouragement to keep growing:)
    DAWN: I cried, too. It’s that sister thing. 6 girls!!! -Than you really understand that sister thing too. Rachel and I are 2 of 6 sisters (and 3 brothers).
    DIANN: What a wonderful complement. Thank you for being a part of the sign language revolution. Communication really does change things things for the better:)
    MARY: Wow! Happy birthday to Laura and Ann! I love that you caught the King Family connection. Yes! Our paternal grandmother is Alyce King of the King sisters. Our dad, Lex, did many of their musical arrangements and was on the show (often behind the piano.) There was a PBS special on the King Family in December. A walk down memory lane. On Rachel’s blog there is a video of Rachel, 3 of our sister, and me singing our dad’s arrangement of Jingle Bells in King sister style. Enjoy!
    TINA: You’re welcome, Tina! Hugs to you and Debbi. We are blessed to have great sisters and great friends!
    JANA: Oh thank you, Jana. YOU are an amazing woman!
    STEPHANIE: Thank you for the birthday wishes! We created what we needed for our family, and I am so glad it has made a difference for your family!
    EILEEN: Thank you for the million gazillion blessings you wished us. (I take every blessing I can get;) I am so grateful that Signing Time has been a blessing for you.
    NIEVES: Gracias! Me alegro de saber que a Mateo le gusta Signing Time. (Mi espanol es un poquito “rusty” pero hago lo mejor que puedo! ja ja).
    ROCIO: What a blessing to have great sisters! Thank you for sharing about your family. You may be happy to know that a bilingual version of Signing Time volume 1 is in progress. (Oops, I may get it trouble for leaking that:) I don’t know when it will be available, but I am sure we’ll announce it in the newsletter when it is. Rachel’s daughter Lucy has spina bifida, too and ASL has been a huge part of her progress. Best wishes to your family.
    ALANA: Thank you for the kind words and birthday wishes. It’s not even my actual b-day yet, and I already feel hugged and loved. 🙂
    KAREN: Thank you. That is a great compliment. I think everyone just wants to make a difference. The funny thing is you (and all of the Signing Time families) are OUR inspiration. When we read your stories, or when Rachel meets you at an event and hears about your story, we laugh and cry with you and are amazed and inspired by your lives. We are honored to be a small part of your family’s life.

  23. BRAD: Thanks for your kind words. I am sitting here overwhelmed with the generous compliments and expressions of gratitude.

  24. Happy Birthday Emilie!! Rachel thanks for sharing your story. Sisterhood and love makes anything possible and you two are proof!

  25. The only thing stronger than sister-love is a mama’s love! What a gorgeous, moving tribute to your gorgeous and very talanted sister!

  26. Happy Birthday Emilie
    Thanks for sharing Rachel.. I love my sister dearly and seeing your relationship makes me grateful that I have something similar as well.
    Missy is the artsy one, talented in so many things(she is younger) and I am the practical minded sister pushing her to use her talents to her benefits… She always tells me she does not want to do what she likes and make it a “job” then she won’t love it any more. (haha) Well Emilie I am glad you pushed Rachel- it has been a blessing to so many including our family!

    Angie from Texas

  27. La-di-da-di happy birthday!
    La-di-da-di, here’s your song…

    I think you know the rest. it’s been stuck in my head all day, thanks to you, Emilie, and of course, Rachel!
    We love you, and love Signing Time!

  28. Happy Birthday Emilie!
    I still remember when you moved here from Hollywood and started high school with us. You were so much smarter and cooler (I mean, who else is from Hollywood?) than the rest of us. Our history teacher was asking our class what it meant to write with a ‘slant’. You were the only one who knew the answer. Apparently your smartness continued with the inspiration behind Signing Time. An inspiration that has literally changed lives. It made such a difference for us and being able to communicate with Morgan those first few years of her life. Hope you have a very happy day!

  29. Happy Birthday Emilie and God Bless you both for being friends as well as sisters! It is a blessing to have family with that kind of love. Thanks for sharing both of you!

  30. A very HAPPY BIRTHDAY to you Emilie! I am so happy to have reconnected with you as a result of Signing Time. It was so fun to work with you and Rachel a few years back on an episode. I will cherish our time together in Mr Kennedy’s class back in Jr. High. Best wishes for a happy, healthy, love-filled year! -Ali

  31. Happy Birthday EMILIE! I still remember meeting Emilie in Santa Barbara, and hearing about all of the ideas for Signing Time! Then meeting you guys in Virginia for dinner, then having you guys come to Santa Fe! Amazing, where life and time has taken us! Thanks EMILIE for getting you to do everything you guys have done so far, and for future ideas! We all will be here waiting!!! But we gotta to give some credit to your kids, hubbies, and families! 🙂

  32. Happy Birthday Emilie! Thanks for all your hard work! And Rachel, I don’t think you’d really be still sitting on the couch because I have rarely met anyone with as much determination as you.

  33. That was awesome, and well deserved! By yourselves you are both amazing but together… WOW! I’m so glad to know you and feel my life has been influenced for the better 🙂
    Happy Birthday Emilie!

  34. I teared up reading the first 5 lines and then teared up at the end. Is it because it’s late at night or is this blog just sooo sweet??!! I love the photos (how cute, little Rachel and Emilie!!) and it’s always nice to get insight in to how our favourite program came about. Happy Birthday, wonderful Emilie! Thanks, Rachel for making my eyes water again…

  35. Pingback: Links and Drinks — Here in the Bonny Glen

  36. Em,
    You are a beautiful woman! Thanks for paying my son for his voiceovers in Nerds candy. “Member that?”
    Not sure, but I think I met you dancing on your wedding day.

    Great memories.
    Happiest BDAY, Jessica

  37. Happy birthday, Emilie! While it is indeed hard to believe that Rachel was once shy or hesitant about *any* adventure, it probably required another de Azevedo to bring her out of her shell and convince her that she was more than capable. You and your entire family never cease to amaze me with your accomplishments. Congratulations to you on all of them and a very big thank you specifically for your role in making Signing Time what it is and what it continues to evolve into. May you constantly be inspired by all your past successes (and the impact that they’ve had on people) to go forth and do more great things.

    P.S. I would be one of those who *would* recognize Emilie in a crowd…

  38. I always love reading about your life. You are an amazing , Mom, sister, friend, daughter, woman. Thank you for letting us share in a small part of your life, but turns out to be a huge part of our lives. Your songs are constantly sung by my husband and I and also our 2 year old daughter. She loves the rainbow song. Hopefully we will be able to enjoy more signing time in the future.

  39. Thanks for sharing this. Rachel, Alex, and Leah have become an everyday part of our lives. We have seven kids ages 13-9mo. My three youngest children request your dvd’s daily (Awex n Wheah). They have enriched our lives and are entertaining and you’re right about the songs getting stuck in your head. I’m a grown woman and walk around humming your songs at least a few days a week. I never miss an opportunity to plug the signing time dvds. I was just bragging them up to my daughter’s preschool teacher today. I love the pictures of you, together as kids and having a large family myself, I am hopeful for the future,that my daughters will be there for one another the way you have been for each other. Thanks for being such wonderful role models and for letting us share a glimpse inside your great relationship.Happy belated B-day.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top