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. 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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.