Monthly Archives: March 2008

Thoughts about racist humor and racism

racism eggs

I have been feeling particularly blue because of an interaction I experienced on Saturday. I was driving Alyssa and one of her friends in my car when her friend started to tell racist jokes. She thought they were hilariously funny. They were not, and I was offended, but I waited to see if Alyssa would say anything first. After all, it was her friend, and I feel like I have raised my children to be anti-racist. I wanted to give her the opportunity to take a stand.

I will give Alyssa credit that she didn’t laugh at any of them, and she appeared a bit uncomfortable, but as her friend continued on telling at least 6 jokes about a variety of races, I finally could not contain myself any longer and told her “That is not only not funny, it is disgusting.” She momentarily was taken aback, but then decided to continue on in a different vein of telling a couple of “dead baby” jokes until Alyssa changed the subject. Chalk it up to incredible immaturity for her age, but what puzzled me most, is this friend self-identifies as Filipina and has experienced comments about her appearance and race from others. She knows what it is like to look different from the rest of the crowd, and yet here she was, denigrating others based on the color of their skin or their ethnicity. What is it about people that causes them to separate into an “us vs. them” mentality?

All I could think of was “Does she think these comments are OK because no one in our car right now is African American or Mexican or Jewish?” Is she truly that ignorant that a family with 3 dearly loved children who were born in China and Haiti would think her jokes were funny? She prefaced the black joke by saying it was OK to tell because “A black guy told me this one.”

Would she have told the same joke had Micheline been sitting in the car? I know if she had, I would have pounced on her by the first few words of the joke and not let it continue. As I pondered that thought, I guess I am disappointed in myself. I was waiting for Alyssa to tell her friend to stop. I wanted her to take that step even though it might have been uncomfortable, but at the same time I feel that I betrayed my own youngest daughter by not squelching the joke at the first words.

As I have thought about what happened today, I read a wonderful blog called Anti-Racist Parent. It made me realize that I have not prepared Micheline as well as I should have by now for the comments she will face in the world. Sure, we have lightly skimmed the topics of slavery, civil rights, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, and other famous African Americans through reading children’s books or watching movies. As two of her brothers are from China we have also read and discussed books such as Coolies which describes how Chinese Americans were treated while building the transcontinental railroad.

Though poignant, our discussions have been painful. How do you tell a kindergartener that people with my skin color refused to let people with her skin color drink from the same water fountain or eat at the same restaurant? How do you tell your sons that merely because Chinese Americans looked and dressed differently and perhaps ate different foods they were denigrated and not invited to attend the celebration of the joining of the railroads even though they did a large portion of the work? You do it with a lump in your throat and an ache in your gut that these topics even have to be discussed, and you explain that somehow, someway, these people were ignorant and didn’t know any better. I guess what hurts the most is that I can’t say, “I know how you feel because I have experienced it too”. I can empathize, but I can’t walk in their skin, and that hurts. I wish I could say, “Sweetie, I know what it’s like to be called the N word”, but I can’t. Sure, I can share my own experiences with discrimination, but they just aren’t the same.

I saw the pained expression in Micheline’s eyes as she watched the Disney version of the movie Ruby Bridges. Anyone with a heart feels the pain that Ruby did when she was shouted at and threatened by parents of other students. To watch Micheline’s face, however, and know that in her mind she was processing that Ruby looked just like her when it came to hair and skin color, almost knocked the wind out of me.

To be honest, I hate that aspect of American history. Slavery, segregation, and the necessary fight for civil rights for all are not pretty parts of our heritage. And yet, racism is sadly alive and well and to not prepare my children to deal with it, is sending them out into the world without tools to protect themselves.

Caleb and Micheline currently attend our neighborhood elementary school that is 16% Hispanic, 6% Asian and 4% Black. That leaves a whopping 74% of students who identify as white. It is an excellent school, but am I doing them a disservice by not moving them to a school that is more racially diverse? They both love school, but they have mentioned comments that other students have made that have labeled them as “different.”

Black History Month came and went last month without so much as a mention in Micheline’s class, nor in the rest of the school that I could see. I didn’t push the issue because Micheline is already sensitive about looking different from most of the people around her and I feared that it might bring those issues to a head. Now I feel like I was wrong. I should have asked the teacher to discuss it in light of the great achievements that some African Americans have contributed to our society. What better way to introduce this subject, than with a kind and loving kindergarten teacher who would not have allowed any racist remarks in her classroom?

I have visited other schools in our city where Black History Month is celebrated. Admittedly those schools have a higher AA population, but just because our school only has 4% of students who are identified as black –whether African, AA or Caribbean–does that mean that we just ignore BHM? They already face the world as a minority each and every day at school; shouldn’t we be giving them something of which to feel proud?

Lots of hard questions, with no easy answers. I ask God daily and sometimes hourly to guide my thoughts and actions when it comes to raising my children who were transracially adopted. He knows them better than I and I know He loves them.

Just today, Micheline asked to read My Brother Martin. It was written by Martin Luther King’s older sister, Christine King Farris, and shares what he was like as a young boy, and the discrimination their family faced. Interestingly, it was beautifully illustrated by Chris Soentpiet, the same illustrator for Coolies. In the book, she says they were treated poorly because they were Negroes. Micheline wanted to know what that word meant. I explained it, and after taking a deep breath, also told her that as she grows up she might someday hear the word ni**er. It pained me to even say it and I almost choked on the word. I felt sick inside even having to expose such a young child to such a hate-filled word. I explained to her that if she ever hears it from another child, that she needs to tell a teacher or a parent because it is not a word that anyone at her school should ever be using. She listened intently and then wanted me to turn the page of the book and move on. As she looked at pictures in the book, she proudly held her arm up to the illustrations and said, “Look Mom! All of these people have skin just like mine!” “Yes they do,” I replied, “and they are very beautiful, just like you.” She smiled, leaned back into me, and asked if I would join her in a nap on her bed.

As she dozed, I realized that I did it. I introduced a concept that she needed to hear about and we made it through it. It wasn’t pleasant, but she took it in stride. As uncomfortable as it was, I wanted her to learn about it from me in a place where she felt safe and loved; a place where she can also be given tools to work with when racist remarks are flung her way. This, however, cannot be a one-time event. Racism needs to be a topic we are both comfortable discussing.

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Ben is growing up

Admit it. They don’t make them any cuter than this. These are photos of four-year-old Ben in our hotel room in China just a few hours after meeting him for the first time, and then a shot of him today at church when the other kids were singing a birthday song to him. (Click on the photos to see them larger.) Holiday Inn, Wuhan, Chinalast day in PrimaryHe turns 12 on Tuesday and will be moving on from Primary, which is the children’s meeting in our church that is equivalent to most Sunday Schools. In Primary, the kids take turns giving talks, and today was Ben’s last talk in Primary since it was his last Sunday there. He looked so handsome in his suit coat and he proudly signed a talk with the theme of “Jesus Christ is my Savior.”

I thought I was OK with all of this. After all, children grow up and move on into new stages of their lives. After they sang to him for his birthday, however, they asked him to share his favorite Primary song and they would sing it as today’s closing song. He chose “I am a Child of God.” I knew he would. After all, it has been his favorite song for years now and one of the few that he both signs and sings with gusto. They asked him to come back up to the front of the room and he signed it while we sang. Silly me…the tears started streaming and they wouldn’t stop.

As I watched him ever so handsome in his Sunday suit, I thought back to when he arrived home from China. He was exactly 4 1/2 years old, but due to having no language yet, we put him in the nursery with the 18 month to 3 year olds from October to about February. He had no concept of God or a Savior, but caught on quickly. He would restlessly pay attention as I signed the lesson which was only about 5 minutes long because none of the younger kids had much of an attention span either. He loved playing with the toys, and having known hunger in his 4 short years, he loved snack time even more. After only one week, he was quick to pick up on when snack time would start and was anxious to help out by putting out the little Dixie cups for water as well as the napkins on which a variety of tasty morsels of fresh fruit, cheese, or even mini muffins would be placed. Marshmallows were his favorite and he was quick to sign “more” whenever he finished his.

He was a bit disgruntled when we moved him on to the Sunbeam class, which consisted of children who are 3 turning 4 that year. After all, the lesson lasted much longer, and snack usually consisted of a handful of dry goldfish crackers as they tried to wean the Sunbeams off of needing food during class. at pack meetingHe stayed with those children who were a year younger than he until he turned 8 and moved into Cub Scouts. Since he was moving up to a new set of peers for Tuesday’s den meeting, we moved him up in his Sunday class as well.

He will be interviewed by the Bishop soon and will become a deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood where he will be able to pass the sacrament each week, as well as collect fast offerings from church members on Fast Sunday–the first Sunday of each month. He is very excited about these opportunities and has told me for years “When I am 12, I can pass the bread and water to people at church.”

I’ve heard people talk of having a life review right before a serious accident or a frightening experience. My life didn’t flash before my eyes today as Ben stood and signed “I am a Child of God”, but his life did. The past 7 years since he joined our family suddenly seemed to have flown by too quickly. All of the times he has made me crazy with some of his impulsive behaviors seemed to be no longer important.

I know he will continue to give me gray hairs. Just tonight he overreacted in anger when he thought he was going to lose the game we were playing together as a family. In some ways he is still very immature for his age. At other times, however, when I look deep into his eyes, his spirit speaks to mine. Deep inside him is a beautiful, radiant spirit, that is sometimes trapped by the behaviors tied to his mood disorder and sensory issues.

Someday I know he will be healed of all of his “issues” and the sensitive and gentle spirit that shines forth at times now will no longer be hidden beneath the layers of a mental disorder. In spite of his difficulties, I love him with all my heart and the Spirit reaffirmed to me today that God loves him as well. Just as we sang today, he is a precious, beautiful child of God, who will someday shine forth as a valiant warrior for God and Christ. I thank God and Ben’s Chinese birth parents–wherever they may be—for blessing me with the gift of my son.

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Multiracial stickers

heads-above-the-rest.jpg

Do you scrapbook or make cards, but have a hard time finding stickers that represent your multracial family? Here’s a cute website that has stickers depicting children with a variety of skin colors and hair colors. They were designed by an adoptive mom who was having an impossible time finding stickers to scrapbook that looked like her AA daughter. I’ll keep her website posted in my links section.

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Noah?

Elder H. with man on the street

This is a photo of my son, Taylor, who is a missionary in Fort Worth, Texas. I have no idea who the other man is, but since my son spends quite a bit of time doing street-contacting in downtown Fort Worth, I am guessing it is a man he met on the street.

Micheline saw me looking at the photos Taylor sent home and when this one popped up on the computer screen she said, “Who is Taylor with? Is that Noah??”

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Insurance companies make me laugh

Well, not really, but I guess if you didn’t laugh you’d have to cry. This photo of my son and some missionary companions goofing around taking their picture in a window reflection best shows how I am feeling at the moment when it comes to medical insurance. photo in window at MTCThursday I got the denial letter dated March 3rd mentioned here for Ben’s upgraded implant. Then on Saturday I got a letter from them dated March 6th, that said, “precertification has been given”.

I called the review department and actually got a person to call me back…karma is looking up. She said that the approval was refused after they deemed the new processor to only be an upgrade and that his old one was adequate such that it did not impair his activities of daily living which is one of their criteria. When I told her that his old one had much older technology and that the new one was 8 times more powerful allowing him to hear better, she then said, “Well, maybe the old one could be declared inadequate but you will have to have a professional write us another letter.” I neglected to mention that they had already given precertification.

Not even five minutes later I got an email from the company that processes claims for our cochlear implant company. The woman had our order ready to go and wanted me to verify it. I got cold feet and told her I would prefer to talk to her first. After all, almost $8K isn’t exactly pocket change, and would be the bill I would be stuck with if my insurance decided to refuse payment.

I explained my situation when she called and she said, “That’s funny…I just got off the phone with your insurance company and they told me they would pay at the in-network rate of 90% and even gave me an authorization number.” That’s basically the same thing our precertification letter said as well.

So, although an authorization number does not guarantee payment, the situation looks pretty good. I crossed my fingers, said a prayer and told her to go ahead and put it through. She said it’s much easier to appeal after it has been processed anyway, than to argue before the claim is submitted. So…the bad news is we still have a 6 to 8 week wait for the new processor, but the good news is it looks like my insurance company may pay for the claim after all. I just hope and pray it doesn’t depend on whether or not there is a full moon or if the month they send it in ends in a Y.

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Hair extensions

Micheline has hair that grows painfully slow. For those of you who may not know, she cut her own hair about 18 months ago. Some people laugh and say, “Oh everyone’s child cuts their hair at some point.” That may be true, but it is usually their bangs or a haircut that can be mended in some way so that they look back to normal at least within a month or two.

Nicole cut her own hair at age two and so did Lynn. Micheline came home at 4 so I thought we were safely past the hair cutting age. Oh no…she decided to cut hers when she was 5. A few braids…right down to the skin. The AA hair salon I took her to said her hair could not be saved and shaved it right down to the skin. head shavedI still disagree with what the cosmetologist did, but once she took that first buzz right down Micheline’s head it was a bit late to protest. Here’s a photo of her the day that it was shaved off. I have to admit that even though I was upset, she thankfully had the perfectly shaped head to be bald. Still cute even without hair!

After 18 long months, she is finally getting some hair back. I am convinced that no one’s hair grows as slow as hers. These are some pictures of a recent hairdo of hers. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

flat twists looking downside view of flat twistsback of head in twists

I have yearned to be able to pull her hair into one or two big braids, because she tires of sitting for hairdos. With her hair as short as it still is, however, we can’t do many hairstyles that are quick and easy. So, I succumbed this week to yarn extensions. Regular hair extensions can be heavy, cause headaches, etc., as they pull on your hair. Not something appropriate for a little girl who is still trying to grow out her hair, as I didn’t want the weight of extensions to damage her hair. Yarn extensions, however, are incredibly light and she said she doesn’t even really feel them. When I first heard about them I thought it sounded awful. Yarn braided into my daughter’s hair?? After seeing a few photos of others, however on my hair care group, I decided to try it. We love them! Not only are they light, but we can pull her hair up into different hairdos. We are hoping to get at least 3 or 4 weeks out of them before we have to remove them. Doesn’t she look darling?

with extensionsback viewwith extensions in front view

Next week I am going to do a straw set on them to curl them, and I’ll post photos then. Meanwhile, she’s just enjoying the feeling of having long hair she can swing around when she turns her head! Funny thing is, people are puzzled by the increased length as if they have never seen extensions before. One woman came up to me at church yesterday and said, “That isn’t really all her hair all of a sudden is it?” I just smiled and said, “Yes, we fed her Miracle Grow this week.”

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Insurance woes

medical

Ok, I don’t like my kids to use the word hate, so I really intensely dislike insurance companies. I view it as legalized gambling. It seems as soon as you have a claim-which in my understanding is the reason you carry insurance — your rates go up. If you don’t make a claim, you just continue to line the pockets of the stockholders, or pay for the claims of others.

More than homeowners or car insurance, however, I really, really intensely dislike medical insurance companies. Ours is just priceless when it comes to paying. When Ben had his cochlear implant surgery they deemed that facial nerve monitoring was considered experimental so they refused to pay that part of the bill. Oh sure…experimental. The facial nerve runs right next to where the dr. needs to drill, but making sure we don’t hit the facial nerve is experimental. Puhhhleeeze. We appealed. They refused. We appealed again. They refused to pay a second time. Exactly one day after the second refusal letter saying our appeal was denied, I got a check in the mail for $900.00 which was the exact amount of the bill. I ran it to the bank that very afternoon and deposited before the right hand of my insurance company figured out what the left hand was doing. Hmmm..my second letter was marked as cc’d to the State Insurance Board even though I didn’t really send it to them. Wonder if that made a difference.

In January, our lovely insurance company shocked me by deeming a new, upgraded external processor for Ben’s implant was medically necessary. This after a simple letter from our audiologist explaining why it was necessary. Understand that usually one letter is never enough with insurance companies. I am convinced they hire someone to open their mail at the medical review department who happily stamps “denied” on every first letter that is sent. From what I have seen, endurance is the name of the game with insurance companies and they hope you burn out before they do when it comes to appeals.

They also make you present new evidence with each appeal, so it becomes a game. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket and send 2 or 3 letters to present your case the first time around. They will just deny it and then you have no ammo left for the next go-round when you need to send an appeal of their denial. I envsion their review department going out to Happy Hour on Fridays, bringing the letters of the foolish people who tried to present their case thoroughly the first time and laughing that these poor suckers now have no hope for an appeal.

Well, after ecstatically ordering my son’s new processor–a huge chunk of change– based on their letter, I got a letter yesterday. Same type of form letter, pretty much identically worded to the January letter. Except…this one stated that “although this is neither an approval or denial it appears that the upgrade is NOT medically necessary.” Alrighty, then…it was medically necessary in January but not in March? Or is it only necessary in months that end in a Y and I should wait to appeal in May or July?

I firmly believe in likening scriptures to my own life, but never knew that 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” would apply in my life when it came to insurance appeals. After my brief tantrum yesterday, I have tried to pray for a calm, clear thinking head. Knowing that this technology could really improve Ben’s hearing abilities, I have asked my Heavenly Father to guide my thoughts and help me to calm down. The words, “Be still and know that I am God” come to mind, so I am determined to do just that. I’ll do what I can for appeals, but leave the final results in God’s hands. After all, He knows the end from the beginning and has perfect timing. It’s my faith in that process on which I need to work.

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