NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — By her estimation, Linda Rhue has fostered 150 children in her 68 years of life.
It’s not a precise figure — she thinks it may be higher, actually — but what is clear is that she really, really, really likes kids.
“The Lord speaks to me and tells me to do this,” Rhue said one recent evening, sitting on her living room sofa in Newport News as the youngest of her five adopted children fumbled for her arms and legs.
It began when her two biological daughters were in school, and their friends would visit for weeks at a time. Cousins would come, too, and eventually, her home became a hangout for children from all over the neighborhood who could stay as long as they wanted.
“We had to always share her,” said her daughter, Tiffany Love, 47 — her oldest. “I’d look at my friends, I thought I was the weird one because my mom was so nosy. She wanted to know what you were doing. But now, I look at how blessed we were.”
Her reputation precedes her: Love’s co-workers at the Department of Veterans Affairs know her as Mama Rhue.
When Rhue’s husband, Alex Rhue, toured as a paratrooper with the U.S. Army, she would take care of children whose parents were busy fulfilling their service.
“A lot of military families, single parents who didn’t want to put their kids in daycare,” Alex Rhue said. “My wife took it upon herself, with a couple of other ladies, to keep the kids until we got back.”
The Rules have been formal foster parents to many Hampton Roads children since. Her tally of 150 foster children includes every minor she’s ever sheltered, whether there’s paperwork or not. The couple has legally adopted five from Portsmouth: Jacolby, 7; Jeremiah, 9; Janiah, 10; Jayden, 11; and Deondre, 16.
Before the adoptions started in 2013, they had been looking forward to retired life, traveling around the country and contemplating a move from Virginia. They’d made stops in Las Vegas and South Carolina.
But Rhue couldn’t tear herself away.
“We wanted to keep the babies together,” Rhue said. “Family is very important to me and my husband.”
The Rules don’t do it all alone — they get help from Linda’s younger sister, Debbie Johnson, who helps with rides to the doctor, grocery store runs and general help around the house. Some of the children have special needs, and Johnson’s contributions are essential.
“She has a lot of patience,” said Johnson, 65. “That’s why I love to come to help her. You know, not everyone would take children in like that.”
Their youngest, Jacolby, said he just celebrated his seventh birthday by playing Minecraft with his brother, racing new Hot Wheels cars and eating a Spider-Man birthday cake. Relatives said the boy seldom leaves his mother’s side — he likes to climb up on top of her shoulder.
The couple worked hard to keep their four youngest under the same roof because they’re biological siblings, though they don’t all have early memories of one another because they had lived apart at times.
Jayden, for example, remembers Janiah, but she doesn’t remember him. Janiah, it seems, made more of an impression.
“She bit my finger,” the bespectacled child said, drawing big, booming laughter from the room.
For Mama Rhue, these moments of joy are better than any Las Vegas retirement.