Sharing My Birthday

When I was a kid, I never hated having a birthday that was so close to Christmas. It seemed to me like the whole month of December was one big time of festivities. Lights, decorations, snow, special treats, singing carols, parties, concerts, presents… I loved it all. And my December 19 birthday would usually arrive just as we were let out for the Christmas holiday -- or maybe on the last day of school, which was usually all parties and fun and no work anyway.

My parents were pretty great about keeping my birthday separate from Christmas. They always wrapped my presents in birthday paper (Christmas wrapping paper being the bane of the December birthday gift.) They tried to figure out if I could still bring a birthday treat in to my class at school, even if my birthday fell during the winter break. I still got to pick out my special birthday dinner (Always my mom's lasagna. And ideally with an angel food cake.) They usually managed to not make decisions about my Christmas gifts based on what I had already gotten for my birthday… My parents tried to make me feel like my birthday was still just mine.

Strawberry Shortcake birthday cake. Awesome.
Strawberry Shortcake birthday cake. Awesome. And we flew to Hawaii immediately after this!

In my adult years, I have adapted to sharing a birthday. Part of this happened when I married someone with the same birthday as me, and part of this was the result of embracing the holiday chaos and realizing how busy we all are as adults at this time of year.  But I still love this particular holiday busyness - parties and music and finding and wrapping presents and snow and lots of reasons to enjoy a celebratory glass of champagne. December is still a month of celebration for me.

Birthday lunch today, with one of my best friends.
Birthday lunch today, with one of my best friends.

In honor of sharing of my birthday - and all of this sharing and celebrating of how we can best love each other on this big and scary planet - I wanted to share my birthday with even more of my "family" today. If you would ever think about a gift for me, whether for my birthday or for Christmas, or even if you wouldn't, I want to encourage you to think about gifts for other members of my family as well.

As it happens, I know what they want! Here are some gift ideas for my family…

Among their many amazing community development activities, my Kenyan mother and father run a primary school called the Samro school that serves their rural community. They have also started the "Samro Polytechnic School" this year, which offers training in practical skills like sewing. Samuel and Rhoda have 8 students at their school who have not been able to pay their school fees. Their families have struggled and struggled to find the money to keep these children in school, and they do not want to make them leave school. This is likely their only shot at education. A gift of $35 per month would keep one of these children in school. That is a gift that would change a life. They also want to buy a sewing machine for the Polytechnic School. The cost is 10,000 Kenyan shillings -- $125.

With my Kenyan mama, Rhoda, who dreamed of and fostered and runs the Samro school
With my Kenyan mama, Rhoda, who dreamed of and fostered and runs the Samro school

One of the sisters of my heart, Michelle, has launched a new organization in Kenya called Hope Matters. After years of running a rural health clinic, she is trying to bring more basic healthcare and skills like training in first aid to the community. She provides physical exams for orphans at many children's homes. She runs clinics to remove the hated foot jiggers that make many children miserable. A gift of $25 to my sister Michelle's organization can provide diabetes screening for 50 patients. $75 could run a day clinic focused on mothers and babies in a given community.

Another of the sisters of my heart, Juli, runs the beautiful facility where I try to send my saddest, most hopeless children. The Living Room offers hospice and palliative care services, but the love and diligent care and dignity they provide has also transformed some of my sickest, malnourished and neglected children into laughing, smiling, running wonders. Last month, I wrote about the little girl whose mother had died, who was abandoned, and whose name we did not even know. Today, Michelle is receiving care in her new home at the Kimbilio ("Refuge") Hospice. I would be happy to share every single birthday with the Living Room.

Consulting with Juli about patients at the Living Room and Kimbilio Hospice.
Consulting with Juli about patients at the Living Room and Kimbilio Hospice.

One of my "brothers", Dr. Mabeya, has the amazing ability to do surgeries that change women's lives, transforming them from rejected and stigmatized outcasts into women who can be welcomed back into society. His clinic, Gynocare, operates on a skeleton budget and relies on donations to provide fistula-repairing surgeries for the impoverished, young women who most often suffer from this condition. Gifts to Gynocare save my younger Kenyan sisters from lives of stigma.

And then there are my children. We have been raising money to run special support activities for our older children with HIV. Meeting other kids like themselves - kids who are growing up with HIV and figuring out how to be healthy adults - makes a huge difference for these children. And we are trying to organize at least 6 times a year when they can have half a day for education, peer group support meetings, and fun activities. Each of these days costs about $600, but it changes life for my kids who are growing up with HIV. A low-income school in Detroit just raised enough money to hold an adolescent support day for December. My colleagues just gave half of the money to plan our next day. If you want to contribute to this birthday party for me, you can send a donation to AMPATH through the IU Foundation and include the notation "Vreeman Adolescent Clinic." Of course, AMPATH does lots of other great things for my kids too -- and I am delighted with any gifts that support our 15,000 kids with HIV.

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I know this is a GIANT gift list, but if you need a last minute Christmas present for someone on your list - or if you really want to share in my birthday/Christmas/Festivus celebration - my family will rejoice with you. Thank you.

Posted at 10:51

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