asked an interesting question over here
, and I think I should answer it in a new post, since other folks on my flist are adopting too, and may be interested.
So, here is how we prepared for people's assorted reactions to interracial families and/or disability:
1. First, our social worker had us do a buttload of training including international adoption, interracial adoption, prenatal drug exposure, and some other stuff. I think we'd racked up 40 hours of training by the time we got Charlie. There's an online class offered by Adoption Learning Partners called "Conspicuous families" if you don't have an in-person class you can go to.
2. Mike and I both have family members with disabilities; from the time I was 6 years old my (much) older sister has walked with a pronounced limp and has very limited use of her right hand. So I've seen her answer the "what's wrong with you" question a lot of times. We also had a family friend who was blind and another who was in a wheelchair, and since I was a child around them I asked all the questions a child does, and learned various things from how they answered (more on that below).
3. I spent a lot of time talking to and learning from my POC friends about racism, white privilege, and what the world feels like for people of color. I also solicited opinions from all my friends, POC or white, about interracial adoption. And I read a crapload of books and blogs about race and interracial adoption.
4. I grew up good friends with a family that had a mix of bio-kids and interracially-adopted kids, and we all talked about race together from an early age.
5. I got picked on mercilessly when I was a kid, because I looked like one of those kids you can pick on. I won't elaborate but if you were one of those kids you know what I mean and what some of the likely causes were.
Sooo....from all that I've come up with some rules for how I handle Charlie's conspicuousness, with kids and with adults.
1. I make sure he always looks as cute as possible
2. I make sure he looks well tended--clean clothes, multiple layers, everything matching, etc. This doesn't have to cost a lot although I'm fortunate to be able to afford some nice things for him. But I know people who dress their kids entirely in 2d hand stuff and you would never know it.
3. When I introduce him to children, I point out his arm to them before they can notice it for themselves. Then they aren't startled by it, just fascinated, so they ask some direct questions and maybe point out that they have *both* hands. Then move on to saying how cute he is. I also do this with adults, if they're going to be around him again.
4. I invite children to touch his arm and I show them the little nubbin on the end that would have been a finger and explain that the arm didn't grow, which reassures them that this won't happen to them.
5. When talking to children, and to some adults, we refer to his future prosthetic arm as his "Robot arm," because robots are cool. And nowadays, prosthetics are often also robotic.
6. When people come up and peer at him, I always say hi and I generally also say "This is Charlie, say hi, Charlie," and pick up his hand and wave at them.
7. He is in a large daycare full of a diverse group of children. There are plenty of downsides to daycare, but daycare kids tend to have strong social skills.
8. We let everydamnbody touch him.
9. We explain what we know about his disability to pretty much everyone who asks. "it might be a mutation, it might be what they call a 'spontaneous event,' we're doing medical tests to determine if he has any other problems. But he's doing great, he's a wonderful baby, he sleeps right through the night..."
The net effect of all of this seems to be that everyone who meets him--friend or stranger--feels comfortable with him very quickly. The children in the neighborhood really like him and enjoy being around him, partly because they get to pet him and touch him, which gives them a sense of ownership. (Note: this policy will change as he gets older and starts to care about being touched or not. But for now it is helping his neighbors to bond with him) Because I talk directly to strangers who see him, and I tell them his name, they ask me questions about him instead of whispering to each other behind my back. Also, once they've asked about the ways in which he is unlike other babies they start asking about what he eats, does he have teeth, how does he sleep--they move him into the category of "normal baby" and they pretty much forget about his differences, because their curiosity has been satisfied. I think that people are powerfully curious, more than they are cruel or hostile.
And the main thing is that we're doing everything we can to give him a sense of security and strong sense of self, and a lot of love and affirmation, so that when he encounters someone who thinks there's something wrong with him, his gut will tell him "that person is weird!" instead of internalizing that person's negative stuff.
For me, the bottom line is that I enjoy being conspicuous, most days, and what I focus on is how we can be conspicuous in the most positive way possible. I want Charlie to be an ambassador for other kids like him.
It helps that he is the world's cutest baby, of course: