Giving others a Shot@Life on this #GivingTuesday

Last week my son Oliver had ear tubes implanted into his ears.  His first year was full of recurring ear infections, fevers and sleepless nights…after which his pediatrician recommended the procedure. Even though ear tubes are a fairly common and “routine” procedure in modern medicine and one that will result in less pain and an improved hearing capacity for Oliver, my husband and were still nervous. We researched, we consulted an Ear Nose & Throat specialist and several others in the medical field before we decided to proceed…and even then the road was full of worry.  The process intimidated me as a mother – anesthesia was required as was recovery time, pre-surgery and post-surgery check-ins. I could not help but be concerned about the “what ifs…”

The night before his procedure, my mother (“Nana” to Oliver) sent me the following note: “I just want you to know that Nana is thinking of you all right now.  One of the hardest things bringing up children is doing what is best for them when they do not understand it and when you are the one making the decisions. I know you are doing what is best for him and soon it will be all over. “

My mom was right…Oliver is already back to his energetic and slightly mischievous self, and I am now breathing a sigh of relief knowing that his hearing will be improved and he won’t suffer from unnecessary pain or irritation in the future. I can’t help but feel very fortunate: Oliver’s surgery was an elective one that will enable him to stay healthy…one that was observed and tracked by various professionals. My son was treated in a modern, clean, and well-equipped medical clinic.  He will receive check-ups in the coming weeks to ensure he’s healing well and he will resume his ongoing check-ups, immunizations, and preventive care that he has been blessed to receive all of his life.

But what about those mothers and fathers who are not able to give their children what they know is best for them and their development?  What if there is no access to medical facilities and preventive care? There’s nothing more challenging as a parent than watching your child suffer any pain, or witnessing them fight an illness – especially a preventable one. I have visited and worked in many regions of the world in which Oliver would certainly not have access to an ENT specialist, and in fact where diseases that could have been prevented by a vaccine could fatally injure him – as they do one child every 20 seconds. Imagine being in a situation where your child is faced with such dire and dramatic health challenges, and as a parent you are not able to provide relief.

What so many of us consider standard, preventive care is a faraway dream for so many children and families in the world.  On this Giving Tuesday, I am thinking about the millions of sons and daughters around the world that deserve a “shot at life” and how we can support them. Expanding access to vaccines can prevent an additional 1.5 million deaths a year. We can all help make that happen.

Shot@Life is movement to protect children worldwide by providing life-saving vaccines where they are most needed. Learn more here:

Learn more about #Giving Tuesday here:

A Birthday with a Message

Yesterday was my birthday.
The day got me thinking about my birthdays over the years and the emotions that have accompanied them.
As a young cub, birthdays are highly anticipated, big, blissful, and full of goodness- One of my favorite childhood photos is one of me with a bright yellow crown, eyes wide open as I am about to dive into a massive chocolate cake, complete with “COCO is 3” emblazoned in green icing.  I now see the excitement so clearly from the vantage point of a mother to two young boys. “Mama, when is my birthday? Mama, I want a police helicopter for my birthday. Mama, I will be five on my birthday and Oliver will be three on his birthday…but Mama, my birthday comes first. Mama, I think on my next birthday I will be big….” Birthdays of youth are bursting with all things good: cake(s), friends, songs, parties, a nap-free day, a breaking-the-rules day…joy! Birthdays can’t come quick enough…and they can’t last long enough for most lucky kiddos.
As the years continued and adolescence dawned, some fears crept into my birthday process. I remember the school year starting and feeling a slight pressure to ensure that I could rally a crowd by mid September. (“What if no one comes to my party? What if no one acknowledges my birthday? What if everyone does, and it’s embarrassing?”) Somehow, more questions became a part of the birthday: Am I too old to have a party?  Why am I developing so slowly? So quickly?  No doubt these birthdays remained a source of excitement, but some intimidation and self-judgement joined the annual event.
Early adulthood and the years that follow brought a range of feelings and emotions. There were the milestone birthdays… (I can drive! I can vote! I can drink! Should I be more settled? What about relationships and family? Baby? Work?) There was plenty of fun and celebration, but birthdays also became a check-point and sometimes a source of anxiety if some part of life was deemed lacking or troublesome.  Some years I avoided the actual number, fearing I was “too old” in certain environments but might be penalized for being “too young” in others. No need to always state the year of birth, right?
This year I turned 37. No big milestone…and a day in a year that has been challenging on many levels. Yet somehow this birthday probably taught me more than any other has to date. This year my birthday delivered a message: don’t take this day for granted.
The seemingly simple ability to track and contemplate birthdays over decades of life is a sign of incredible good fortune. I can only imagine what my father would have done to celebrate just one more birthday here on Earth with his loved ones — or what we would do to have him here for just one more day.  And on a global level – a single birthday is a goal that is out of reach for far too many people, infants, children, parents. I have witnessed this first-hand in my work with communities struggling with health epidemics, drought, and poverty…yet at times I still drift and can be consumed by much less important concerns and fears.
This year reminded me that birthdays are a true privilege – and I hope my 37th year will be guided by the joy and the call to service that they inspire…as well as the gratitude to everyone who has supported my birthdays along the way!
A very cool way to celebrate birthdays by giving children around the world a shot at life: