Tuesday, December 9, 2014

When It's Time to Come Clean About Santa

I rarely write blog posts directed toward a particular religious audience, but this post is directed at a subset of Christian parents out there. My Facebook feed has been a-flutter for weeks with distressed parents whose children - in the late stages of elementary school - are finally catching up to their peers and discovering the elaborate ruse that loving adults in their lives have created for them every year involving stockings, gifts, and the hotly-debated presence of a man from the North Pole. 

Every year, parents freak about at the discovery and the distress their kids are feeling. Just like I don't like to deliver bad news about poverty without a constructive solution involving kindness and generosity, I don't enjoy the idea of a parent delivering this harsh news about the Big Man and then just releasing kids to their own rooms to stew about it. 
Yes, Virginia...there is a Santa Claus...and it's YOU.
Did I blow your mind, Virginia?

Consider an invitation to be part of the magic as a way to ease your children from the "getter" state of mind to a higher level of expressing love as a "giver." In my interfaith home, we adapted the tradition early on, so that the children knew that they were as much Santa as anyone and had a role in filling stockings in a clandestine way on Christmas Eve. (They get to put the candy and clementine oranges in) Of course, the littlest one still didn't believe me when she was three and swore she heard sleigh bells on the roof, but she thanks me now as she helps her 3rd grade friends cope with their crumbling faith.
My appeal to you this Christmas...end the increasingly complex web of lies and transform the stress into something beautiful and constructive. Invite your children to be part of the magic of giving to children who are excluded from the Santa tradition because of economic struggles or other reasons.There are many ways to do it, but here are a few hands-on to consider:
  • Pack a Shoebox for Operation Christmas Child to send much needed toiletries, toys, and love to kids living in poverty overseas with Samaritan's Purse
  • Pick a name off of a local gift tree at a grocery store or your church and let your kids be Santa for young children in need in your community
  • Give to Toys for Tots at a local dropoff center
  • Send a Chanukah card or gift to the children of your Jewish friends. You probably didn't notice how carefully many of them kept your secret through the years anyway while hiding their own tears because the myth suggested that they were permanently on the "Naughty List." 

If you thought it was charming to see your little ones believing in the myth and the magic, wait until you see how beautiful the truth can be when you see your babies growing into giving and caring children fully participating in the spirit of Christmas!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Anti-Poverty Mom's 2014 Gift Picks

"What is he into these days?"
"What size are they now?" 
"What colors does she like?"
"What's does she want this year?"

These are the frantic texts I received today from extended family members heading out to do Chanukah and Christmas shopping, wondering what people in my house would want to receive. Me...I'm easy to please since I'm thrilled if someone just makes a donation in my name to make someone else's life a bit easier. But what about the THINGS? We have to buy THINGS or we just don't feel like we've done our job as patriotic American consumers. I understand. I've got you covered. Here's my 2015 list of my favorite can't-go-wrong, affordable material items that also will also help others if you purchase them for folks on your gift list...even if you don't know their personal tastes very well!

Little Sun
Photo: www.littlesun.com
I adore beautiful and functional gifts. When a friend told me last spring about this adorable solar lamp from a company that helped to provide light to people without reliable electricity in Africa, I knew what I'd be getting a number of people on my list for Christmas. This light was designed by artist Olafur Eliasson. The genius is that everyone could use a personal source of solar power. Not just for off-grid areas of the world, this well-designed and surprisingly bright lamp is easy to use. Five hours of charging in the sun produces 10 hours of soft light or 4 hours of bright light. Perfect for camping, nighttime reading, or illuminating your bedsheet fort, it will introduce your kids to the benefits of safe solar power and sustainable energy. When you buy a light for $30, you are subsidizing this power source to be sold much at a much lower price to someone in poverty...mothers cooking in the dark or children struggling to do homework with a dwindling candle supply.
Photo: www.littlesun.com
If you're looking for a fashion statement that will help women in Africa to escape a terrible situation visit the FashionABLE website. I heard the founder, Barrett Ward, speaking at the ONE Campaign's AYA Summit telling the story about how he was greatly distressed in his travels when he realized young girls were offering sex acts to him in exchange for $1. He and his wife became aware that many women - lacking meaningful resources and a sense of hope - resort to prostitution as a means to support themselves and their families. The women are often desperate to leave the sex industry, but remain trapped by a lack of opportunity and rehabilitative support. Committed to assisting with long-term solutions, the founders partnered with "Women at Risk" to rehabilitate former sex workers. FashionABLE helps them find alternate means of income creating beautiful products of quality and finding a sense of empowerment. Women are not dependent on charity, but are instead are a vital part of a developing community. "You are ABLE to provide opportunities and women are ABLE to have a new choice."
My favorite FashionABLE gift idea is the Selam "Game Day" Scarf for $36. It comes in many colors that are likely to match the taste or favorite team colors of many women on your list. 
Photo: www.livefashionable.com
For world traveling ladies and gentleman, I recommend the leather passport wallet for $35. 
Photo: www.livefashionable.com

When is it cool to get socks for Christmas? When someone in need gets something cozy for their feet, too! For every pair of socks purchased, Mitscoots gives an equal quality pair of socks to an American in poverty. While volunteering in Austin in 2007, the founders discovered that after food and water, the most common request they got from the people they served was for a clean pair of socks. Mitscoots teams up with local and national charities to help distribute their socks to people who need them the most. Plus, they employ people to package the socks who are in need of a job to stop living on the streets. They have some hip socks in casual or tech styles for about $14 a pair. My personal favorites are the Kelly and the Valdy. Right now, there is a 20% promotional code if you enter "BOMF" as the coupon code at checkout.
Photo: www.mitscoots.com

To The Market
This one isn't as simple to make a one item recommendation because there is so much stuff on their site! To The Market showcases handmade goods made exclusively by proud and passionate artisans who have overcome the perils of abuse, conflict, and disease. By assisting local partners around the world in bringing these goods "to the market," we take an active role in equipping the survivors they employ with economic independence, while raising awareness of the challenges that they face.

Photo: http://www.tothemarket.com
My favorite thing about the site is that you can search for gifts by product type, cause, or country of origin. I suppose if I had to pick a favorite item off the site, it might be the "Punjammies" for $39 made in India. They are 100% cotton, low-rise, and - as described by the website - "super comfy." But, really, you have to go see this site for yourself!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Ebola Preys on Loving Touches

I was sick yesterday...nauseous, weak, miserable. Not surprisingly, I got it from my daughter who was throwing up with a fever not long ago. How many times has that happened to you as a mom? In caring for your little one when her face is so pale and her body hot with fever, you reach out to comfort her. You offer a snuggle because your child cannot sleep and you feel her little body relax in your embrace. You know you're probably going to contract whatever she has if you kiss that brow, but you do it anyway because in that moment, a mother's touch eases the pain and discomfort quicker than than Motrin or Tylenol.

In my own self-pity party as I carefully sipped my re-hydrating Gatorade, I thought about stories I heard at the ONE Campaign's AYA Summit about the rapid spread of the Ebola epidemic. At first blush, it seems incredible that - with such a virulent disease on the loose - parents wouldn't take precautions to shield themselves from contamination. But through the eyes of a mother caring for a sick child and thinking about all the protective gear one needs to effectively protect against Ebola transmission, I see the problem clearly. If you are a parent in extreme poverty without access to any of this gear, wouldn't you at least reach out to embrace your dying child? I recalled this excerpt from the October 4, 2014 LA Times article "Ebola's Cultural Casualty: Hugs in Hands-On Liberia":
"...imagine trying not to touch your 2-year-old daughter when she is feverish, vomiting blood, and in pain. 
Precious Diggs, a 33-year-old contractor for a rubber company, had heard all the warnings from the legions of public health workers here in Liberia. She had seen the signs that dot the road from Harbel, where she works, to the capital, Monrovia, some 35 miles away: "Ebola is Here and Real!" they say. "Stop the Denial!" 
But when her toddler, Rebecca, started "toiling and vomiting," there was no way her mother was not going to pick her up.
"Na mind, baby," Ms. Diggs whispered in her baby's ear. "I beg you, na mind."
Precious' baby girl died only days later, but not before passing Ebola onto her mother. Weeks later, Precious herself was released from an Ebola treatment center. It would be difficult to describe her as "lucky," but this same story has played out in a worse way many times over with mothers passing on the disease to other children as well. Entire families have died because the parent-child bond with it's desire and need for touch is too great to heed the warnings to keep distance. The bond goes both ways. On NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, I heard the story of Ephraim Dunbar living outside Monrovia who contracted Ebola caring for his mother. He tried to keep his distance and wear gloves as he kept her hydrated with milk and tea, but there were times that he didn't wear gloves and in the end he contracted Ebola. But again, it's hard to describe him as "lucky" as he emerged from recovery to find out that he lost his entire family...mother, father, sisters, brothers. When asked why he didn't protect himself better, he replied in Liberian-English, "That mama, she the one who bore me." He just could not stop himself from providing loving care to her, including touching her.
A picture of the protective gear worn by Ebola care
providers from Dr. Fischer's messages from Guinea

Dr. William Fischer II from Doctor's Without Borders, working in an Ebola isolation facility in Guinea had these observations - shared on University of North Carolina's School of Medicine blog - about Ebola spreading through the traditions of burial and caregiving:
"The Ebola virus has been isolated from almost every body fluid including sweat, semen, blood, urine, oral secretions, and tears. As I mentioned yesterday, this virus has transformed tradition into transmission...Even before death, though, when people become ill, they are cared for by their loved ones and as any and all of us do. When was the last time you wore gloves, eye protection, and an N-95 when your son or daughter had diarrhea?" [an N-95 is a face mask]
Tears! Even wiping away a loved one's tears is deadly. Fischer's description about what it's like in the Ebola care wards illustrates why we can't bear to think of our children not having comfort parents long to provide:
"With Ebola you can't have a good death. You are isolated from your friends your family, your home. You are cared for by people whose primary focus is on stopping transmission from infected to susceptible and from patient to provider rather than comfort and cure. These people often die without the comfort of a human hand, without seeing someone's full face or even just knowing that a loved one is near."
How painful it is for mothers to bear the pain of resigning their children to that kind of fate. Many of them simply cannot. They often pay the price with their lives and the lives of the rest of the family.

The cruelty of Ebola is especially offensive to me as a mom. Its nature of spreading through contact associated with affection and caregiving strikes at the basic instinct of a parent to care for and touch a child with love in the moment of deepest suffering for both of them. The hopes and dreams of an entire family can be wiped out because someone loves too much not to reach out. 

So...what can we do to give suffering families and ourselves the gift of stopping this terrible disease?

As with every global health threat, it needs to be met with government support, non-government organizations in the field, and individual donors around the world. Here's what you can do TODAY:

Ebola can spread across the world over oceans, but so can our love and generosity. Like this video from the ONE Campaign urges us...Don't Wait. Do what you can to help today.