The first hint that Pat and Jill Williams's family is a little different comes at the door of their house in Winter Haven, Fla. At dawn—before the Williams kids head out to four different schools, before Pat goes to his job as the general manager of the Orlando Magic and before Jill is temporarily enveloped in blessed silence—there are almost 50 pairs of shoes waiting for feet: hightops, tennis sneakers, cowboy boots, baseball cleats, soccer shoes, loafers, moccasins and more.
The house is a fire storm of activity, even at 6:30 in the morning. In fact, it is a madhouse especially at 6:30 in the morning, breakfast time, which is usually the only time that all 18 Williamses are together, gathered around the table in the dining room of their 11-bedroom, eight-bathroom house. Breakfast is cold cereal and fruit. When you're feeding four biological children and 12 adopted children, as well as one French exchange student and two caddies from the PGA Tour, as Jill and Pat were one recent weekday morning, you just can't get into that pancake-and-egg thing.
"Our dining-room table is 16 feet long," says Pat. "So, picture a table one foot longer than the distance from the free throw line to the basket, lined on both sides with kids eating." He shakes his head at the thought of his six daughters and 10 sons, ranging in age from 18 to five, eating breakfast at the same time. "Positively frightening," he says.
Actually, Pat and Jill make it all seem quite manageable. Through practice and necessity they have gotten it down to a science. They put numbers on the kids' clothes for purposes of identification—there are five 11-year-olds alone—with the numbers assigned according to when a child arrived in the family. For example, their fourth biological child, eight-year-old Michael, is kid number 6 because he was born after his three blood siblings and after the first two adoptees, Sarah and Andrea, both 11 and from Seoul, South Korea, had joined the family. Each child's number is listed on a seating chart posted on the refrigerator. The positions are shuffled from week to week, "so we don't get tired of sitting in the same place," says 15-year-old Bobby, number 2 on the list.
Daily chores are broken into a.m. and p.m. duties, and if a kid screws up, his or her name is liable to end up on a big blackboard that hangs on the wall in the kitchen. "And you definitely don't want it there." says Jill. On this particular day, for example, someone (O.K., it was 11-year-old Thomas, one fourth of what Pat calls "our Korean division") had failed to stack the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. The two youngest children, six-year-old Gabriela (Gabi) and five-year-old Katarina (Kati), do not have chores, but the blackboard reminds them to "be good on bus" and "save lunch for lunchtime." Apparently the two little girls, both from Romania, have had trouble in those areas. The weekly bag-lunch menu is posted on the refrigerator, and there are no changes made for fussy eaters. If it says bologna sandwiches and carrot sticks on Tuesday, that's what you're going to get.
The talk at the breakfast table is of schoolwork, schedules and sports, especially schedules and sports. For instance, by 4:30 that afternoon—and this was not an atypical day—the Williams children were scattered thusly:
Firstborn Jimmy, 18, who had stopped in for breakfast, was back in nearby De-Land, at Stetson University. Bobby, a catcher, was at baseball practice at Edgewater High, while number 3, his biological sister, Karyn, 13, was working out at the Orlando Sports Medicine Center. Andrea was at an art lesson, and Sarah, who had the day off, was at home. Michael was auditioning for a TV commercial at Epcot Center. Numbers 7 and 8, Korean twins Stephen and Thomas, were at the Winter Park Little League warming up with the Cardinals; number 9, David, a 13-year-old from the Philippines, was there too, playing in a different league. Number 12, Sammy, 8, also from the Philippines, and number 15, Richie, 10, from Brazil, were practicing soccer at Ward Field in Winter Park. Peter. 12, and Brian, 11, both from the Philippines, were at practice for the Blue Dolfins, a swimming team, at nearby Rollins College. Gabi, number 13, was at a local gym practicing gymnastics. Kati was at home working with her English tutor. And number 16, Daniela, the 12-year-old from Brazil, was home studying.
Earlier that day, at the breakfast table, Pat had extracted the previous night's sports report from David. "So, David," Pat said, leaning down toward the boy, "tell me about the game last night."
"It rained," said David, "and we got in only two innings."
Five years ago David was running the streets on the island of Mindanao, living from hand to mouth.