Tina Hall doesn't consider herself an extraordinary woman.
But each day, she does extraordinary things for the children in her life.
She fosters love.
There are 3 a.m. feedings, trips to the doctor's office and help with homework.
She calms fears, makes sure clothes are clean and teaches good manners.
She also heals wounds — and not just the scrapes that come from falling down.
Some of the children suffer the disturbing effects of domestic instability and have become the collateral damage of parents unable to cope.
They arrive at Hall's front door as strangers. But they quickly become family.
Hall is a foster mother.
For almost three years, she and her husband, Dan, have opened their home and their hearts to children who need respite from the storm.
Opening their home
Originally from Baltimore, Hall said she lived there until she met her husband on eHarmony.com more than five years ago. After marriage, they moved to Washington County.
Hall said she wasn't particularly familiar with foster care. But it was a different story for her husband.
As a child, Dan Hall had experienced abusive foster care until he was adopted by a loving couple.
"So, when I met Dan and we talked about children, we talked about becoming foster parents," she said. "But we decided that we wanted to wait until we had a house of our own and were financially stable enough so I could stay at home."
The couple found a house that was everything they wanted. They put in a contract and started to plan their dreams.
But after moving in, they looked at the empty bedrooms and decided it was time to make the call.
"We were scared and excited at the same time," she said.
Hall said she and her husband began foster parenting training with the Washington County Department of Social Services.
"We also started collecting things — beds, cribs, clothes, whatever a kid may need," she said.
They then welcomed their first foster child into their lives.
"I always pictured myself doing something to help kids — just never really knew what it would be. Now, I can't imagine it being anything else," Hall said.
Since becoming foster parents, Hall said she and her husband have provided care to 11 children.
The Halls currently have five children in their home — from 15 years of age to 4 months.
"We adopted two of the children from foster care in Washington County in 2010, just finalized the adoption of another that was from Florida foster care that was in our care as kinship, and are in the process of adopting another from Florida's foster care system, which should be finalized by the end of this year, also in our care as kinship," she said.
Hall said the couple does not have any biological children together, but she is a stepmother.
"I love all my kids like they are our biological children," she said.
Hall said she and her husband have fostered infants to teens "and everything in between."
"I'm not sure which is my favorite age," she said. "Ask me that in a few more years when we have one in college, another in high school, one in middle and two in elementary. I think by then I will be able to decide."
But with each child, a special bond develops, she said.
"It's hard to not become attached. We are the ones who are healing their wounds, both internally and externally. We are the ones telling them its ok to miss their parents and to support them when they do," she said. "These are kids who have feelings and emotions and while, sometimes, they might take their anger out on us, it doesn't mean you don't become attached to them and want to help them get through it. It makes you want to work harder at helping them heal and move forward in life."
Hall said children stay in their care for various lengths of time.
Some arrive just for a weekend, others stay a few weeks or months.
"Saying goodbye is the hardest part, no matter where they are going next," Hall said. "Every one of those children has made a difference in your life in one way or another. It might be a simple phrase or a memory. No matter what it is, it is something you carry with you about each and every one of them and when you say goodbye, you're never saying good-bye to the memories that came with that child."
Hall said children are given the option of staying in touch after they leave.
"And I make sure that their life books are full with not only pictures, but stories, too. I think it is very important for them to see what happened when they were with us," she said.
Armed with a smile and a Nerf gun
Being a foster parent isn't without its challenges, Hall noted.
"You never know what will happen from day to day and most of your life becomes an open book," she said."
But despite the challenges, being a foster parent is extremely rewarding, she said.
Maybe it's seeing their eyes on Christmas morning or watching them make friends for the first time. Most importantly, she said, "it's seeing them smile."
Hall said she and her husband enjoy interacting with the children — from something as simple as sharing breakfast together on Sunday mornings to getting her Nerf gun, hiding and doing sneak attacks.
"It keeps us all young," she laughs.
Though she and her husband love being foster parents, Hall admitted it's not for everyone.
"You have to want to do it," she said. "It is very hard to open your heart and home to a child and not know what the future may hold."
Hall said she will probably sleep in on Mother's Day — a gift from her husband who, each year, makes breakfast and usually takes the kids out during the day "so I can have time to do whatever I want."
She'll also call her mother, she said "because she's my best friend and the greatest mom one could ever wish for. I am so blessed and so very thankful each day for her."
And maybe, she joked, "I will get a new Nerf gun and I can use it to annoy my kids for the day."