Strangers talking to us

A- will probably be strongly influenced by how I interact with people, so it’s good to give that some thought. I am a bit reserved, and I’m sometimes reflexively suspicious of strangers who talk to me out of the blue. I’ve been making an effort to smile at people and engage in the usual chitchat about the weather. There are certain things that get the conversation off on the wrong foot and I haven’t quite figured out how I want to handle them. Let me think about what I like and don’t like, and what I want to try next.

Let’s start with positive stuff, so I don’t feel like such a curmudgeon. What I like about the way strangers sometimes interact with A- and me:

  • Observation: “You seem to really like digging!”
  • Offering: “Would you like to play with this?”
  • Joining in: Impromptu dance party
  • Recognition: “You did it!” “That looks like fun!”
  • Inviting A- to make contact: extending a hand for a high five or a fist bump, but not making it awkward or insistent.
  • Empathizing

Things I don’t like:

People just reaching out and touching A-! This makes me want to back off or swat their hand away. I understand that baby skin looks so soft and inviting, and I get that people want kiddos to pay attention to them, but this just creeps me out. I’m tempted to experiment with stroking them right back and seeing how weird that makes them feel, but that just prolongs the interaction. So far, I’m getting better at saying, “Please don’t touch.” Some people really don’t get the hint, though. I may have to practice saying stronger variants.

What’s the harm? Nothing much, I guess, but I want A- to learn about bodily autonomy both ways (her body is her own, and other people’s bodies are theirs), and it creeps me out that other people want to satisfy their curiosity by touching people, and it’s supposed to be okay just because they’re touching a kid. Uh, no.

I am, however, totally okay with people crouching down to her level, saying something like “Would you like a high five?”, extending their hand, and waiting for her to respond.

I also cut little kids some slack, although I’ll still wave them off if I’m in arms’ reach. Just because someone wants to hug or kiss or touch someone doesn’t mean that person has to be hugged or touched or kissed. I’m getting better at intervening with something like “Wait, please. A-, it looks like ____ would like to give you a hug. Would you like to hug or wave hello?”

What’s wrong with her eye? Another one for dealing with other people’s curiosity. There was a Holland-Bloorview ad that resonated with me. It said: “Asking is better than assuming. But do you really need to know?” When I feel relaxed, I say things like, “She was born that way. It doesn’t hurt, though, and she can see fine with her other eye.” I might also practice saying “Why do you ask?” and when people say, “Just curious,” going with “I don’t feel like satisfying your curiosity right now.” Or maybe “Why do you need to know?” said with a smile.

And then there are playful approaches: “She lost it in a hockey fight!” “She’s a pirate in training.” “Aaaaah! Did it fall out again?”

There’s also “Isn’t it amazing how we can adapt to situations? A- can see just fine with her other eye. She can also hear just fine too, so let’s include her in the conversation!”

Or maybe that old standby, “Would you like to ask her? It’s up to her if she wants to answer or not, of course!”

How cute! Or “What a cutie,” or other variants that focus on appearance. I understand that that’s many people’s default compliment for kids (especially girls). People are usually quite genial, so I’ll try to be gracious about it. It might be fun experimenting with playfully asking A- if she wants to be cute today or a more interesting adjective. “Cute” kinda feels a little dismissive, limiting, and more focused on the eye of the beholder, and it tends to have an expiration date… I wonder if “Are you a cute little baby today or an awesome big kid” sets up too much of a contrast. “Cute is out, awesome is in.” might be too conceptual. “Baby sheep are cute. A- isn’t just cute, she’s awesome! Speaking of cute sheep, there’s a new lamb at Riverdale Farm! Have you been?”, maybe? Long thing to say, but redirects the conversation…

I’m okay with A- getting compliments, and I hope she doesn’t get a complex about her appearance. “Cute” is just a bit weird, though, or maybe I’m just a bit weird about it. :)

Boy or girl? I’m guessing people don’t want to make the mistake of assuming gender, but aren’t used to avoiding gendered pronouns. I guess I could jump straight to introducing A- by name and interest, since A- has a gendered name. Then it would feel less like her gender is the first thing people need to know about her.

How old is she? People are probably just calibrating their age guesses and figuring out how impressed they should be with whatever A-‘s doing. Maybe I’ll practice poking them ever so slightly back. “You first! How old are you?” Or maybe directing people to ask her instead (answers optional), so she gets practice in conversations.

Are you from China? Maybe people are trying to calibrate their race guesser? I get this occasionally from non-Asians awkwardly making conversation. Filipinos tend to think I’m Chinese too, but generally don’t mention it until I say something in Tagalog that prompts an “Ah! Akala ko Intsik ka” from them. Maybe I’ll practice the Southern “What a thing to say.” Or maybe “You first! Are you from ___?”

Ooh. This Citylab post has a fun idea for dealing with the “Where are you from?” question: “Mars!” This post gives me a more positive view of why people might ask. Maybe I could distract and redirect with “Isn’t it wonderful how Toronto is such a diverse city and anyone can be a Canadian? Where are you from?” Or maybe “It’s fun to guess where people are from. Are you from ____?”

Ideas to play with!