Tamara Horton is quick to point out her Mother’s Day celebrations don’t often reflect the norm.
As the mother of two biological and seven adopted children, plus two recent foster kids added to the family, there will be plenty of cards and gifts. But it’s also a difficult day for some of her children.
For a few of her adopted children who were in the foster-care system, this day of honor for mothers is a reminder of their birth mother, and the unfortunate circumstances that prompted Tamara and her husband Nate to adopt them.
“It’s pretty hard for some of them,” she said. “So at our house it doesn’t look like a typical Mother’s Day.”
On any given day at the Horton house in Kalispell, the place is a beehive of activity. Seven of their nine children live at home, including three who are 16 and aiming for their driver’s license.
“I’ve got one in driver’s ed, one signing up for driver’s ed and one who will soon be signing up for driver’s ed,” she said calmly, cuddling one of the family’s four dogs.
She keeps track of their myriad schedules in her daybook and makes the job look easy.
“You have to have a plan, and you have to be flexible,” she said, explaining that those proverbial best-laid plans often go awry.
Her calm demeanor and a personality that oozes kindness and love serve her and her family well, but she’s not immune to the pressures of motherhood.
“I didn’t know how hard it would be,” she confided, stopping to answer a question from the family’s newest adopted child, 9-year-old Gideon. “But also how rewarding.”
If Tamara is the “World’s Best Mom,” as a handmade Mother’s Day card from one of her adopted kids declares, then her husband Nate is equally in the running for “World’s Best Dad.” He works in the construction industry and often has jobs out of the area because they pay better, but then hits the ground running when he’s at home.
“I couldn’t do it without her,” he said. “Her heart always goes out to the kids.”
The Hortons had very different upbringings. Nate grew up in the Philippines, the son of missionary parents. Tamara’s dad suffered from alcoholism, an affliction that affected the entire family during her formative years in Wenatchee, Washington. She had three step-sisters who had been in and out of foster care.
“At that point — I was 16 — I made a commitment that some day I would take in kids in need,” she said.
After the Hortons married in 1995 and had two children of their own, they soon began praying about adoption, and Tamara was very specific in her prayers.
“I prayed that the name of the child would mean something to me. Second, that a child would be brought to us without having to flip through a book and pick one out. And that the Lord would provide the money.”
One day after she put her son and daughter down for a nap, a radio program caught her attention. There was a small girl who had been abandoned in a forest in Russia and needed a home.
The tiny, malnourished girl was missing a part of one leg — and her name was Tamara Kay.
With a young orphan in need who had her namesake, Tamara took it as a sign from God that they get involved, and the Hortons soon were flying to Russia to adopt Tamara Kay, now nicknamed T.K.
“It was crazy,” she recalled. “Those kinds of adoptions just don’t happen.”
After the Hortons moved to the Flathead Valley in 2000 to be near Tamara’s parents, who had earlier relocated to the area, they began opening their hearts and home to foster children, some of whom would be adopted by them.
The circumstances have been wide-ranging. Their adopted daughter Jasmine was just 4 when she stayed with the Hortons for respite care. The Hortons were Jasmine’s fifth placement in five months; she needed the stability of a permanent home, so they adopted her.
Another time the couple asked about adopting a baby and instead got a call about a small deaf boy who needed an adoptive home.
“And he comes with a 7-year-old sister,” the caseworker added. That’s how Evan, now 12, and Thea, 16, came to be part of the Horton family. They’d been in foster care for three and a half years.
Gideon lived with the Hortons for six months before he was adopted just before Christmas last year.
“He fits in really well,” Tamara said, adding that Gideon and Evan knew each other from school. “And having Evan, who is deaf, Gideon learned sign language real fast.”
A few foster children have come and gone through the years. For the Hortons, the overriding goal is always the same: “make them feel safe.”
The need for foster parents is never-ending, Tamara said, adding that there is a better support network these days for foster parents than there was when they first got involved with the foster-care and adoption systems.
When they adopted T.K. from Russia, there were few resources for adoptive parents, she said. Now several organizations lend support, such as Child Bridge, Youth Dynamics, CASA (court appointed special advocates) and the church where the Horton family attends services, Easthaven Baptist Church.
“I have great support from a network of friends,” Tamara said “We take [care of] each other’s kids, we know their kids” and any issues the children may be dealing with.
That kind of support is priceless, she added. “We didn’t have that for a long time.”
Tamara connects online with foster and adoptive mothers throughout the country via FaceTime and Facebook.
“I would like to do more of that,” she said. She offers plenty of experience about how to handle the issues foster and adoptive children deal with, and her family has “run the gamut as far as special needs.”
For those needing advice, it’s helpful to “talk to someone who gets it,” she said.
Tamara doesn’t get time to herself very often, but was able to steal away for a couple of days this weekend to visit her oldest daughter in Arizona. She’s returning today in time for a little Mother’s Day love from the rest of her crew.
The Hortons occasionally take mission trips overseas, though it’s a logistical nightmare to arrange for help while they’re gone.
“It took 14 people to take care of the family when we were gone to India on a mission trip,” she recalled. “And the basement flooded the day we left.”
Features Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or firstname.lastname@example.org.