A LOT of folks can't handle one kid, let alone three.
But they're not Valerie Crabbe. Not only did the divorced mom rear three biological children of her own, but 10 years ago, she married a man who also had three kids. Together, they were a modern-day Brady Bunch, with three boys and three girls between. Once all of those kids were grown, you'd think she and her husband of 10 years would have been done with children, right?
It turns out that Crabbe and her husband, Larry Harris, were only just getting started. As a little girl growing up in Germantown, Crabbe had dreamed of having a multiracial family of girls. So, after their biological children were all launched, she set about making that happen, beginning with her first adopted daughter, Angela Harris, and then, later, Audelia Crabbe. Crabbe also has a foster daughter she plans on adopting. That brings the couple up to nine children between them. Nine children.
Get this: She isn't done yet. She plans to bring six foster girls into their beautiful home in North Wales, Montgomery County. Six! That will mean eight hormonally charged teenage girls from various backgrounds all living under the same roof. (Angie, 19, lives on campus at La Salle University.) But Crabbe and her husband can't wait for all of the authorizations to be done and for the new foster daughters to finally arrive.
Having no biological children of my own, I found it really hard to relate. So, I drove out to visit Crabbe recently to find out if she was crazy . . . or some kind of supermom. I found out that it's definitely the latter.
Not only is Crabbe impatiently awaiting the arrival of the additional girls, she and her husband will host a black-tie, red-carpet gala at the Pyramid Club on May 17, called the Pinnacle Awards, to honor people who have become successful after going through the foster-care system. (Tickets are available through beingbeautifulfoundation.org.)
I visited on a rainy spring late afternoon last month. It was pouring outside, but the house was cozy despite its nearly 4,000 square feet. A candle burned on a table in a hallway and the sound of a small, yapping dog filled the air.
Upstairs, Audelia, 14, was busily curling her dark hair, but took time to show a visitor the bunk beds - four to a room - awaiting her new foster sisters. Another teenager, Nacera Wynn, 16, was sleeping so soundly that she didn't wake up when a visitor walked in for a look around.
"l always wanted to be a foster mom. When I was a little girl, I always told my mother I was going to adopt a Chinese girl, a white girl, and a black girl, and for some reason she believed it. She never said, 'No, you're not,' " Crabbe recalled as we settled into a downstairs office.
"I said, 'I'm going to have the United Nations in my house.' I let it go and didn't talk about it any more, and then, it was always on my heart, always on my mind, to do it," she added. "And once I had my three biological children and they became older, I felt like I was missing something. 'I can't be done.' "
So in 2006, the now-50-year-old Crabbe, who had been a military wife and worked as a makeup artist, set about taking classes in therapeutic foster care. She asked her mother, who lived in her in-law suite at the time, to be her support. (Luckily, her husband, Harris, 51, retired after a 20-year career in mortgage banking, went along with the idea and didn't put up any resistance.) It took some wrangling to get her first foster daughter, Angela - who already had been in 10 different homes. Crabbe got the call to come pick her up on the same day her own mother died.
"It was about two years of hardship," Crabbe recalled of raising her first foster daughter. "You name it, she did it. Then I thought, 'What did I do? I bit off too much.' "
"The last temper tantrum she had, she literally cut up my mother's blankets that I put on her bed. She knew they were my mother's blankets. And when I came in the room and saw that, all I did was cry. Then something hit me. I said, 'Fine. I'll tear the room up with you.' I tore it up with her," Crabbe recalled. "I just started grabbing stuff and throwing it out in the hallway.
"She stopped and she said, 'You're crazy,' and I said, 'I don't understand why you're trying to push me away. I love you.' And she said, 'Are you going to get rid of me?' I said, 'No, I love you, Angie, why are you doing this?' And she was like, 'Nobody loves me.' I said, 'I love you. My mother loved you.' And we're just crying, and finally, after that intervention for both of us, I think I realized that she loved me and she realized that we loved her.'"
"That was the transition from being fostered to 'She's mine and I'm hers.' And we realized that we belonged to each other and that was it."
Angela was 8 then. Crabbe and Harris formally adopted her three years later. Since then, Angela has made a complete turnaround, becoming a dean's list student at La Salle with dreams of becoming a trauma surgeon.
Audelia arrived when she was 4, at first as a temporary arrangement. They wound up adopting her, too.
Then, Angela came up with the idea of going to group homes and creating events for kids in foster care. That was the genesis for the Being Beautiful Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to improving the lives of youngsters in foster care.
"We would bring in speakers and athletes and young people, professionals who grew up in foster care themselves, inspirational things," Harris pointed out. "If it was a thing at Dorney Park and we would have 20 or 30 kids with us, we would have a speaker come in and speak to the kids for a few minutes and then have some fun."
Soon, Nacera joined the family. Still, Crabbe wasn't finished. She got an idea: Why not open up their home to even more foster children? Her husband came onboard with the idea, and the couple have been working their way through all of the paperwork and approvals to expand their family even more.
Crabbe is looking forward to opening her home and heart to six more girls, even if it means her home will no longer be The Brady Bunch. It'll be The Brady Bunch on steroids, and she wouldn't have it any other way.