It's not yet 8 a.m. The six Whatcott children are dressed and ready for the day. Their beds are made and their rooms are tidy. Their father has left for work. Their mother is downstairs.
She hasn't seen her four girls and two boys yet this morning. She didn't tell them to get up, put their clothes on and straighten their bedrooms. She never has. The children do this every morning, and have since Wes and Sandra Whatcott adopted them from Ethiopia and India more than a year ago in July.The Whatcotts are old enough to be driving a Winnebago bearing the bumper sticker, "We're spending our children's inheritance." But they're not - at least not on themselves. At the grandparently ages of 59 and 58, respectively, the pair are parents of young children again. And they're loving every minute of it.
"This has been one of the smartest things my wife and I have done in our lives. We are just having all kinds of rewards for having done this," said Wes Whatcott, a clinical social worker at the Utah State Prison.
It helps that their children - Briana, Abel, Liya, Rachelle, Tari and Raman - are as obedient as cherubs in a Sunday School class, a phenomenon the Whatcotts are hard-pressed to explain. The only thing they squabble about is who gets to do the dishes or wash the car. "I almost feel guilty about it, they're so nice," he says.
At breakfast on this morning, 4-year-old Tari thanks everyone in sight before chomping her fresh fruit and toast.
"Thanks for setting table, Rommy. Thank you for praying, Abel. Thank you for food, mommy," she says, beaming.
Tari didn't smile much when the Whatcotts journeyed to a foster home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital city, to pick up her and four other emaciated children. Her homeless mother showed up at a hospital one day complaining of illness with the child in tow. The mother died there. The nurses took care of the girl for perhaps two months or two years. No one knows for sure. Record keeping isn't a high priority.
Parentless, starving children are like so many flecks in the universe in the often civil war-torn east African nation bordering Somalia.
"You can't write people off just because they are one of many," says Sandra Whatcott, a former schoolteacher. "It's amazing how if they're given an opportunity, they just take off."
The Whatcotts recognized a need to find homes for abandoned or malnourished children some 25 years ago when Wes Whatcott and an associate founded an international adoption agency in Salt Lake City. He had to give up the business after a short time because a job change took him out of state. But the desire to run his own agency never diminished. He figured he'd do it after retiring.
Five years ago and ahead of schedule, he and his wife started West Sands Adoptions out of a small office in their Provo home. The Whatcotts anticipated handling two or three international adoptions a year while Wes continued working as a prison social worker. The demand for children from Russia or China or India, however, pushed that number to as many as 25 in one year.
Despite helping family after family bring home children, the Whatcotts never considered starting their own family over. Having reared five children who have provided them seven grandchildren, they were content to help others adopt children from all over the world.
Suggest adopting to Wes Whatcott then and "I'd have told you you need a good doctor, a very good doctor."
That was until he saw the picture. Sandra Whatcott saw it, too. Two orphaned Ethiopian children who needed a home. Without even talking it over, the Whatcotts independently decided they wanted those children. Nearly four decades of marriage puts a couple on the same wavelength.
Major decisions come with nary a word. Before they could act on their impulse, however, another couple adopted the two children. But the fire had been lit.
There was a second photo of two other malnourished children that caught their attention. "The picture just sort of got at us," Wes Whatcott said. The couple figured they could handle two children. Then they heard about another who needed a home. If two, why not three? If three, why not four? Wes Whatcott finally drew the line at six.
So six it is.
Abel, 7, and his 6-year-old sister, Liya, lived on the streets of Addis Ababa. The boy's left arm and chest bear the scars of a downtown bomb blast that killed his mother and caused hot milk on a stove to spill onto him.
Raman, 5, came from India. A wisp of a child who, unlike his new sisters and brother, hasn't gained a pound since being adopted.
Eight-year-old Briana is the motherly leader of the pack who used to brush her new siblings' teeth when they first arrived. She delights in organizing her brothers and sisters, including her biological sister, Rachelle, 6, into a game of adoption. They pack new clothes in suitcases and pretend to fly to the orphanage just like Mom and Dad did.
Adopting five children at once from Ethiopia took some special arrangements with the Ethiopian government. For example, the Whatcotts had to obtain a waiver for a rule that calls for no more than 40 years to separate parent and child. Because the couple have their own adoption agency, they were closely scrutinized by Utah government officials, enduring at least three thorough investigations.
The couple, who celebrated their 37th anniversary in August, are much more laid back with their adoptive children than they were with their first family. They've been around the parental block a few times. They went the rounds with biological children over homework and unkempt bedrooms. This time around, if children want to be messy, so what?
"I think middle age is the best time to adopt children, but I wouldn't have believed that if you told me that three or four years ago. We're more relaxed now," Wes Whatcott said.
Reaction to the late-in-life adoption was mixed among the Whatcotts' biological children, all of whom live out of state. But they've come around. One son, a doctor at the Mayo Clinic who has five children, decided to raise his adopted siblings should anything happen to their parents.
The Whatcotts realize the odds of something happening to them before they raise their new family are higher because of their ages. Nevertheless, they don't let that inhibit them. They've already taken their six adoptive children camping to Capitol Reef and Yellowstone just like they did decades ago with their biological children.
"We don't anticipate dying tomorrow," Wes Whatcott said.
Ethiopia and India are now a lifetime away for the six children, although the Whatcotts are determined to teach them about their heritage and culture. Flags from both countries hang above their pictures on a kitchen wall.
After a tepid start, the children plunged into American life. They love the Utah Jazz. They don't like the Chicago Bulls and that guy with all the tattoos.
The children found trick-or-treating odd on their first Halloween. But "for two or three days after, they asked if they could go out and get more candy. And then they didn't want the candy because they weren't used to sugar," Sandra Whatcott said.
They eat sweets now, but butter remains unappetizing - probably because Ethiopian women use it to keep their hair in place until it goes rancid, she said.
The girls adore their Barbie dolls, preferring the blonde-haired "pink" ones over the black-haired `brown" ones.
In their eyes, Caucasians are pink and Africans are brown. That's just the way it is.
Race hasn't been an issue, the Whatcotts said. In the one incident they recall, Briana promptly put a little boy in his place after he said some derogatory things about her and her siblings at McDonald's one day. She gave him a light slap on the cheek.
The Whatcotts are content with their multiracial family. They have never felt unnatural about it.
"It doesn't matter what color their skin is. Their skin is warm and soft and good to kiss," Sandra Whatcott said.
What's Rachelle's favorite thing about being here? "Eating pizza," she says. What does she like to do? "Play with Barbie and Ken." What did she do in Ethiopia? "Play in the dirt."
There's no playing in the dirt anymore. The children have toys and trampolines and videos to entertain them. They have pictures to color, libraries to visit and school to attend. They have parents to wear out.
The Whatcotts' days are mixed with joy, adventure and exhaustion. Wes Whatcott says he has energy he never knew he had.
"I can't describe it. It's sort of a quickening. I feel 20 years younger."
The couple doesn't regret for a moment the decision to start a second family.
"You want to make your days count for something. Every day counts for something. I feel good about my life. I'm using my time in a better way and I'm happy," Sandra Whatcott said.
And they're determined to make it last.
"Sooner or later we're going to have a bad day," Wes Whatcott said. "But we haven't had a bad day."