With nine children ranging in age from 3 to 24, Melissa "Missy" Tarjick rarely has time to read for herself and vacations are few and far between.
Her days off from work tend to be packed with errands, and on weekends she bounces between her kids' sports games.
Still, Tarjick said she couldn't imagine her life any other way.
"I've wanted to be a mom since I was little," she said one recent morning while watching over her two youngest visit the baby animals at Hancock Shaker Village. "Other kids were reading Nancy Drew. I was reading Parent Magazine."
Tarjick, of Cheshire, became a mom to her eldest, Emily, at 19. In the following three years, she and her husband, David, had two more children, Coby and Noah, and became foster parents to many others. They have since adopted six of them: Aleah, 16; Damien, 15; Ellie, 14; Davon, 9; Sayde, 4; and Leo, 3.
"We didn't really decide," Tarjick said, of having such a large family. "As the kiddos became available for adoption, they were already a part of us. As much as I like to see reunification happen, if it can't happen, they are with us."
Both Missy and David Tarjick grew up in Pittsfield. When Missy was a teenager, her parents began fostering children and later adopted her three siblings. It was then that she first became aware of the need for foster parents in the region.
So after Emily was born, the couple knew they wanted to open their home to kids in need, too.
All of her adopted children were under the age of 5 when they came to the family.
"Davon came to us when he was 4," she said. "He's 9 now and just as much our son as any of them."
For the Tarjicks, the only difference between their biological children and those who were adopted is their age. It can be frustrating when people in the community make it apparent that they don't feel the same way.
Aleah, who is 16 and biracial with curly brown hair, said that when some people see her with her mom, they assume they're not related.
"We don't really look alike in any way," she said.
Oftentimes when Aleah corrects them, they have a question.
"They say, 'Is she your real mom?,' " Aleah said. "I don't see my birth mom as my real mom; I see my mom as my real mom."
That's why every mother's day, when she hears about a mother-daughter look-a-like contest, she feels annoyed, as if the contest is sending the message that children who look like their parents are more valid than those who don't.
Coby Tarjick has experienced the ignorance, too.
"Growing up in such a kind of a rural area where there is not a lot of diversity, every now and then you'd hear remarks in passing," he said. "I think it's gotten better over time."
Coby has been away at college studying political science and in the fall he will start law school.
On school breaks, he comes back home to the seven-bedroom house where he and his siblings grew up.
"There's always something going on," Coby Tarjick said. "I typically don't get to sleep in at home past 7."
On weekdays, the house starts buzzing at 5:30 a.m. when David Tarjick leaves for work.
Missy will get up at 6 and see Aleah, Damien and Ellie off to the bus before dropping Leo, Sayde and Davon off at elementary school and day care by 7:45 a.m.
Then Tarjick, a social worker, heads to work.
"If I'm doing good, chugging along, I'm usually there by 8:45 or 9," she said.
On days she isn't working, there's still rarely downtime.
"Thursday we have four appointments," she said. "We use an app on our phones to keep track, my husband and I."
At Hancock Shaker Village, Missy Tarjick pointed out a goat that shared Sayde's name.
Leo peaked his head into it's pen.
"Hi mommy. Hi baby," he said, waving at a pair of them. Tarjick is proud that child advocacy has become a family mission, with several of her kids pursuing careers to help children.
Emily just earned her master's in social work and is looking into the process of becoming a foster mom. Coby plans to do child advocacy work when he gets his law degree. Noah is studying criminal justice.
"We do it for the kids, because the kids need us," Tarjick said of fostering and adopting. "A lot of people don't understand the number of kids in care we have. Imagine you have a child showing up at your doorstep; are you really going to close the door?"
Tarjick's children recognize the sacrifices their parents have made for their family and enjoy the time they get to spend together.
"I'm really busy with work and school and sports, but when we do things, I like being in the car with my mom," Aleah said. "I like making her laugh."
Missy Tarjick will spend Mother's Day, which falls during Foster Awareness Month, attending T-ball with Leo and baseball with Davon. The kids plan to make sure she comes home to a clean house.
"They have huge hearts; they can never say no when there is a kid in need," Coby Tarjick said of his parents. "A lot of people say their mom is the greatest, but my mom really exemplifies what it is to be a mother to so many kids."
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at email@example.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.