Danielle Skelly isn’t planning on a traditional Mother’s Day, one that starts with breakfast in bed and a bouquet of flowers.
She expects her kids — a robust mix of her own and her adopted ones — will probably downplay the holiday. The adopted ones know it can dredge up bad memories of the mothers who failed them.
Skelly, 43, has spent years mothering children who weren’t her own. In 15 years, she estimates some 40 foster kids have come through her door. Some stayed for days, others for weeks or months.
Along the way, Skelly and her husband, Terence, have brought six of those foster kids into the fold of their family, which includes four of their own biological kids.
Skelly has never shied away from taking on the hard cases — teens who have languished in the foster care system for years.
Most foster children carry the emotional baggage that comes from abuse, neglect and abandonment. They bounce from foster home to foster home. And studies show they often age out of the system into crime, poverty and homelessness.
Today, the Skelly household is made up of eight children — three biological children, two adopted, two in the process of being adopted and one just living there. And there’s an exchange student visiting from Thailand.
For Skelly, there’s never a dull moment at her East Patchogue home. She is sure Mother’s Day will add stress to the nonstop action.
“If I can get a few hours of peace that will be great, along with a burger off the grill,” she said.
Over the years, Skelly has used her love to calm the kid who punched a hole in her wall, the one who smashed a lamp and all the ones who called her every name in the book.
Her absolute refusal to give up on any kid has turned many a troubled young life around.
“For me it’s selfish,” Skelly said. “I love to be needed. I love to have kids around me.”
Richard Lefebvre came to live with Skelly in 2006 when he was 16. He had been in foster care five years.
“I was a runner. I ran away a lot,” Lefebvre said of himself in his foster care days. “That was my coping skill.”
Early on, Lefebvre and Skelly clashed over his cellphone. She demanded he hand it over after he had gotten in trouble at school. He refused.
“Richard called the police, telling them we were refusing him heat, that we weren’t allowing him in the house,” Skelly recalled.
Months passed before Lefebvre simmered down.
“We use patience, consistency, support — and we don’t give up,” she said.
Now, Lefebvre realizes that calling the cops was “stupid.”
“If not for Danielle Skelly, I wouldn’t be living in my apartment, I wouldn’t have the job I have,” said Lefebvre, 29, who today is involved with the helping teens in foster care. “She has made me a better person in every possible way.”
Last year, the adoption agency You Gotta Believe hired Skelly in its Holtsville office. Her husband, 42, drives a tow truck and works as a mechanic.
“Danielle is one of our stars,” said Mary Keane, the agency’s executive director. “She just loves kids, all kinds of kids.”
At times, though, Skelly admits her good work takes a toll on her family.
Despite a government stipend for each foster kid, the money often isn’t enough to make ends meet, Skelly said. She shops at a lot of thrift stores and cuts a lot of coupons.
Kaite Skelly, the couple’s 20-year-old biological daughter, has been on the receiving end of the stress. When she had to share her room with a new girl, the fighting resembled WrestleMania, she said.
But angry words and sharp elbows aside, the Skellys — all of them, adopted and biological — always come to each other’s defense.
And Kaite Skelly has come to appreciate the lessons that those strangers-turned-family members have taught her.
“I feel I have a good understanding of the world outside of perfect,” said Kaite Skelly, who is looking at a career helping young offenders. “I can see how important it is to support other people.”
As for Sunday, Mom Skelly might be in for a surprise.
Her husband and their brood are whispering about flowers, a spa visit and a night out for dinner.