The phone call earlier this year telling Nellie and Anthony Pruitt they needed to adopt another baby came suddenly.
They already had taken in two children from Nellie’s sister, who had been deemed unfit by a court. But Nellie’s sister had another baby, and after the birth earlier this year, the hospital called, telling Nellie, “You better pick up your baby.”
“My baby?” she asked.
They said if she didn’t take the baby, Nellie recalled, he would end up in the state system.
So they took him in, and named him Jeremiah.
“That’s family,” Nellie said, “and you take care of family.”
Now Nellie, 42, and Anthony, 44, are parents to three, and every moment is bustling, boisterous and a bit loud in their Fort Lauderdale home. For Nellie, who also has an adult son and reared a nephew, it’s her second time starting a family.
It hasn’t been easy, even if the Pruitts insist they are the luckiest people in the world.
They had to move out of their prior home because the landlord wouldn’t fix the exposed wiring coming from the holes in the ceiling and wall, on top of the constantly increasing water and electricity bills. Their new place in Fort Lauderdale is in better shape but makes for tight quarters, with six people living in three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
And the quick move means they don’t have much furniture. The living room is a collection of mismatched office and children’s chairs with a small Christmas tree. They had to let go of their dining room table because it was too big for the new place. They hope to get a smaller table for the children.
The three youngest children have beds, thanks to the community-based care agency ChildNet, but Nellie’s oldest son, Dontea Brown, 18, sleeps in his room on a mattress on the floor.
Times are tight, Nellie says, with the children taking up her days and her husband picking up as much construction work as he can.
And yet they couldn’t say no when asked to raise a family. Nellie hated the thought of the children being scattered across South Florida, without her knowing where they were.
Nellie, Anthony and Dontea sat down, talked about it, and they all agreed.
Jasmine Ross came first. When Nellie’s sister lost custody of her, Nellie told herself she could start over and raise a child again. Next came Ronald Ross, who everyone calls Ron Ron. He arrived as a newborn.
Again, Nellie told herself she could do this.
And last came little Jeremiah Moore.
“I’m just doing what I can,” she said.
Yet to hear the Pruitts talk about their family, they have so much to be thankful for.
On weekends, they wake up to a bed full of children. One Sunday afternoon, Anthony is grilling chicken outside, while inside 2-year-old Jasmine doodles in her Dora the Explorer coloring book and Jeremiah sits on Nellie’s lap.
Ronald, 1, starts a little mischief, pushing the television power button on and off.
When Nellie tells him to stop, Ronald throws a tantrum, tossing several small children’s chairs to the floor. Nellie stays calm, with Jeremiah on her knee, telling Ronald, “When you get tired, you’ll stop.”
And he does. After a few minutes, a tired Ronald knows what to do. He grabs a small chair, points it at the corner and puts himself in time-out.
The Pruitts are in the process of legally adopting all three children and hope the process will be done before Christmas. But, legal terms aside, they’re already a family.
Nellie lists with ease every child’s favorite food, what size clothing they wear and personality quirks. Anthony admits he’s the one more likely to spoil the children, especially Jasmine.
“I just want them to have a Christmas every day of their lives,” Anthony said, “and have love to the fullest.”
All three children already call them mom and dad.
“I told my husband,” Nellie said, “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”