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Mother’s Day has special meaning to foster moms

JoAnn Parker plans on spending Mother’s Day like most moms today.

She hopes to attend church, come home and relax while her children fix her dinner.

“I’m going to church, coming home and everybody better have my dinner straight,” Parker said Saturday.

Unlike most mothers, however, Parker can’t count her children on one hand — or even two — and the Mother’s Day cards won’t fit on her mantel.

You see, Parker estimates she has more than 100 children. She gave birth to three of them, adopted two, is legal guardian to several more and served as a foster mother to the rest.

“We hadn’t thought about being foster parents,” Parker admits now, 25 years after the first foster child arrived at her door.

Parker and her husband, who celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary this week, had three biological children — two daughters and a son — when their son began wishing for a brother.

“I said, ‘Son, this is it,’” Parker recalled Saturday. “He got to crying and acting crazy about a brother.”

To appease their son, the Parkers signed up for foster care, unaware of what they were getting themselves into.

“Lo and behold, our first foster child is Lakita, a girl,” Parker said.

However, a boy her son’s age soon came to live with the family.

“I said, ‘We got it now. No more kids,’” Parker remembers. “I didn’t know that was just the beginning.”

Since that day a quarter-century ago, about 100 foster children have come through the Parkers’ home. Some stayed less than a week for emergency placement. Two were adopted and still are with the family.

“A lot of it was when Social Services was right up the street,” Parker said. “We were the first call.”

One night, she recollected, the family received a late-night call from Child Protective Services. Three sisters and two brothers had just been taken from their home, and the social worker was begging her to “just take one.”

Parker went the next step.

“If you don’t mind them sleeping in the den, we have a pullout couch,” Parker told the social worker. “If you don’t mind all five, bring them on.”

As the Parkers saw further into the foster care system, their motivation changed. They started to give their son a brother, but continued because they realized how great the need was.

“In the very beginning, I didn’t think about how many children needed placement,” Parker says.

In many ways, Parker isn’t much different from a biological mother — there were difficult situations, but the greatest reward came when the children grew up. Some have even become foster and adoptive parents themselves.

“They’re really my children, and that’s the way they look at me, as Mom,” Parker said. “You have to have the love in your heart, but also be willing to open your heart.”

Some of her many children will be visiting on this Mother’s Day to bring her cards and gifts and eat dinner with her. Most still live in Suffolk, including one who lives just down the street.

“They give me many blessings,” she said. “It’s good to have them all here.”