I hope you all had a chance to read yesterday's post, featuring blogger Deanna Smith. If not, please don't miss it- and don't forget about our Baby Sent From the Stars Giveaway either...only 5 days left until winners are drawn for the iPad2, Nook, and other awesome prizes.
I'm a Christian, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a granddaughter, a niece, a cousin, a friend. My name is Renee, I am 31 years old, I am married to the Army... oh wait I mean I'm married to a Soldier, my hero. Same thing right? I am a misplaced Californian or maybe a Tennessean who's found her way home. I am a mini-van driving soccer mom... I always knew I would be! I am blessed to be able to stay home with my 5 amazing kids. Kassidy: my beautiful, too smart for her own good, funny, dramatic 11 year old who thinks she's already a teenager. Kameron: My high strung, incredibly intelligent, artistic, silly, sometimes mysterious 9 year old comedian in training. My 6 year old diva, Kennedy: who will sometimes tell you she's Hannah Montana or iCarly or some other famous person. She's destined for the stars! Keeghan: my crazy, funny, silly, handsome 3 year old monkey who loves to ask me a million questions all day long; and our 4 year old magna doodle loving Ukrainian Princess Kellsey who's been with our family for just a year now. I'm so incredibly blessed.
I definitely have to look to God as my source of strength. He keeps me going and keeps me grounded, especially when I feel like all hope is lost or I'm at the end of my rope... which has happened more than a few times in the last year. As far as which situation has been hardest to deal with, each thing brings its own unique challenges. I wouldn't really say one is (or has been) harder than the other, just different.
How did Kennedy's leukemia effect your family? When was she diagnosed and how is she doing today?
Ahhh Leukemia. Cancer sucks. Kennedy was diagnosed with Leukemia on April 16, 2007. I was 8 months pregnant with Keeghan and was having some complications with him as well. Her diagnosis rocked our world. It shook me to the core, physically, mentally and spiritually. I remember going through all the phases of grief... denial at first and shock for awhile. I remember crying the day her hair started falling out from the chemo. I was standing over her crib in the hospital room, changing her sheets because the hair everywhere was freaking her out. Our favorite care partner came in and helped me change her sheets and cried with me. Then my hair dresser came to the hospital and cut her hair for me so it wouldn't be so drastic as the rest of it fell out. Once it was gone, I couldn't pretend anymore that she didn't have cancer. It was devastating. An outward sign that my baby was sick. I remember the first time we went home and Kassidy saw her bald and she laughed hysterically. I was so upset with her. She was only 8 years old at the time, but still I knew she was old enough to show some compassion. I talked to her about it later and she said, "I'm sorry mommy, but I knew that if I didn't laugh, I would cry." We all dealt with it in our own ways. My mom stepped in and took over with Kass and Kam for those 6 months. They basically lived at her house. When Keeghan was born 2 weeks later, he moved into a pack n play in the corner of Kennedy's hospital room and lived there until he was 6 months old. He was a trooper. Frank drove back and forth every day... we put more miles on our van than I can count. It changed our lives... we went to funerals for two year olds and pleaded with God to save our child... and then felt guilty when He did. Why did He save Kennedy and not Cody? Not Charlie? Not Matthew? Not Erica? Not... and the list goes on and on. *sigh* Kass and Kam now know that kids die. Every day. We have learned to hold our children closer and cherish every moment we have with them. Cancer is a terrible, horrible disease that no one should have to deal with. I pray every day that we never have to again .
Kennedy is doing great today! She has been in remission for almost 4 years and next year will be considered officially cured!!! We've been waiting for 2012 forever it seems like! Can't believe we are almost there! :)
So on top of all the craziness in your life...you homeschool. How do you carve out some Mommy time in the midst of everything, and what advice can you give new moms trying to balance it all?
My mommy time is after the kids go to bed. That's when I read, blog, spend time with God and just have QUIET. My advice would always be to find some time, even if it's just five minutes, to be on your own. There have been days, especially on the weekends, when I'll just say, "Mommy needs a time out". And the kids know to just go play for a little while and leave me alone. And it always makes Keeghan laugh. ;)
The military is a funny thing, and every unit is different. To us it has been a blessing. Frank joined right before I got pregnant with Kennedy, and they have covered every penny of her medical bills. We have joked that she is our million dollar baby because her medical bills hit that high before she was 3 years old. I can't even imagine what they're up to now. His unit has been wonderful letting him be home for all her major stuff. He has missed one major surgery, but was here for all her chemo and got to fly home from Afghanistan for her spine fusion surgery. They also gave him lots of time off when we went to adopt. They've been so supportive of our family and have covered us in love year after year.
Yes, it's been a lot of deployments, and that's hard on all of us, but we both look at it as part of his job. In return, he has job security, a constant paycheck, and I get to stay home with the kids which is important to both of us. When he leaves, it takes awhile for the kids and I to get into a new routine, and obviously it's much easier (and more fun!) when daddy is home, but we make it work. It definitely helps having my mom so close by as well.
How did decide to take on international adoption in the midst of a pretty busy life?
I started promoting Reece's Rainbow on my blog back in 2008 when a few of my friends were adopting. We were following their journeys to bring their little ones home and trying to help them fundraise. Then we looked more into WHY they were adopting and what Reece's Rainbow was there for. I started advocating for children on my blog and posting kids' pictures and one day I found this cute little girl named Victoria. She looked A LOT like my kids, I thought:)
I sent her picture to Frank who was in Afghanistan and he immediately said, "We should adopt her!" And I said, "You're crazy!" HA! We decided to be her prayer warriors. I stuck her picture in a bunch of my posts hoping that someone would notice her and want to become her mommy and daddy. In the meantime, Frank and I talked more about it. He asked what I was worried about... we KNEW Down syndrome, we already had 4 children, what's one more? "But what if she got Leukemia?" I asked. He replied, "Well, we know that too..." We talked to Kass and Kam about it to see what they thought... their lives had been drastically changed by Kennedy and her hospitalizations etc. And we felt they deserved a say in something that would cause even more of a change in their family. They were both immediately on board. Kassidy said that Down syndrome is what made Kennedy so special and Kameron asked if we could get a boy, too! HA! So, I was the only one dragging my feet... Then one day on another blog I saw a post that someone else wanted to adopt her and I immediately thought, "NO! She's MY daughter!" And then it hit me. OH she's MY daughter. We committed to Victoria on Thanksgiving night 2008 and were in Ukraine a year later. She came home December 5, 2009. :)
When did you start blogging and what does your blog mean to you?
I actually started a caringbridge page during Kennedy's first hospitalization before her second surgery. They had found she had a blockage in her intestine at 7 months old. It was a duodenal web. I guess that was my first form of blog... that was back in 2005. It was a wonderful way for me to update everyone without having to make a ton of phone calls or type things in a bunch of different places. In the middle of Kennedy's chemo in 2007, I switched over to a carepage because I liked the setup better, and then after she was done with that treatment, everyone was blogging so I jumped on that train. I love my blog and all the people I have met through blogging. There's a little community there. I've met lots of my blog friends in real life, which I think is so neat! It's also a great way to chronicle my kids' lives and keep memories. My kids love to look back at the blog and relive events or say, "Put this on your blog!" :) It's really become a family event!
If we peeked into the Garcia home, what would an average day look like?
Well, every day is a little bit different, so let's start with today... Monday. The kids are getting ready for school right now. Kass and Kam are up and dressed and reading a book. Keeghan is getting his shoes on. I need to pack his lunch still and get Kellsey dressed before we leave. Then I will take Kellsey, Kass and Kam and then Keeghan to school in that order. Then it's back home to do homeschool with Kennedy. We try to knock out all our work in the morning. At 11:30, she has Occupational therapy. (On Tuesday and Wednesday she has Speech Therapy, and on Wednesday she also has Tap and Ballet.) We pick Keeghan up at 2:00 (he only has school on M,W,F), then Kass and Kam get out at 3:25, then we pick Kellsey up right after that. Then we come home and the big kids do homework while the little 3 play and I figure out dinner. After dinner, is bath time then the kids clean up their rooms and bedtime is at 8:00. :)
What advice would you give to a mom receiving a diagnosis of Down syndrome for her baby?
When a new mom has a baby with Down syndrome, I tell them first and foremost, their baby is still a baby. In the midst of all the medical information, doctors appointments, stress and craziness, remember that you still just have a little baby who needs love and hugs and kisses. Your baby is a baby first... before Down syndrome, before any other medical diagnosis. And as time goes on, life will slow down and it will get easier.
What would you tell families considering international adoption who might already have a child with special needs at home?
Just as no two children are the same, no two children with Down syndrome are the same. Never believe that bringing another child with Ds into your home will be as easy as your first. International adoption is an amazing thing, and you can provide a home for a child and literally save their life. However, go into it with your eyes open. Ask questions. Talk to parents who have been there. Sometimes reading blogs isn't enough. It's one of the most rewarding things you will ever do, but if you don't know everything, if you only hear the "good" side of adoption, you could be in for a major shock. And that's not to say that adoption is all bad. There are many, many good sides. Just be informed and be prepared.
Are there additional challenges of raising two children with special needs, or do you feel it was easier to bring Kellsey home because of your experience?
I think in some ways it was much easier to bring Kellsey home already having Kennedy. I was already connected to a Down syndrome association, I already had therapists lined up and knew where I wanted her to go to school. I knew the ins and outs of the school system (and the fact that I didn't want her there). I caught some of her medical stuff quickly that I may not have otherwise caught because Kennedy had already been through it, like her aspiration issues. However, like I said above, Kennedy and Kellsey are completely different from one another. I attribute A LOT of that to upbringing, of course. Kellsey has a lot of... issues... that she brought home from the orphanage that we're dealing with now. Then there are just personality things that may very well be inherited traits. Kellsey is very routined, where Kennedy is very laid back and go with the flow. Things like that. So in some ways, yes, having Kennedy has helped me with Kellsey, but in others, Kellsey is a completely different child with a whole new learning curve. But then, all my children are different from one another, really. :)
Where do you see yourself ten years down the line? Are there more children in the future for the Garcia family?:) (I get this question every other day, so I had to ask, lol;))
Ten years from now... let's see... Kassidy will be 21, Kameron will be 19, Kennedy will be almost 17, Kellsey will be 14 and Keeghan will be almost 14. Oh my... that would make me OLD! HA! No more children for us. Our family is complete. :)
It's hard to say where we'll be, even where we'll be living! Kennedy will be in high school and Keeghan and Kellsey will be in middle school. Kass and Kam will be off on their own? In college? Maybe? Frank will still be in the Army... almost out probably. Hard to say what the future holds... only God knows. :) Prayerfully we will be happy, healthy and together!