I've always wondered how we would handle the first time we're in the supermarket and my child innocently asks something like, "Why is that kid flapping?/Why is that lady brown?/Why does that man's chair got wheels?" etc etc... because inevitably, children will ask, without judgment, about the world around them.
The discomfort doesn't come at all from children's natural inquisitiveness. The discomfort comes from a) that the person in question will absolutely, 100% overhear the comment, b) probably feel weird about it, c) the parent will know that the other person feels weird, d) the person is going to overhear your answer, there's a little pressure, and e) it's hard to answer big questions like "Who made the trees?" "Where do babies come from?" and "Why is that lady so big?" in between reading labels, following a coupon list, and trying to keep your kid from knocking a glass gallon jar of picked pig's feet off of the deli counter (True story. I did that to my mama).
Fortunately for me, my kid has been raised not to eat meat. So at her school Thanksgiving feast, I had to prepare her that other kids would eat turkey, we don't eat animals, it's okay that everyone's different, and it's not bad that other people choose to eat animals. Heavy stuff for a 2 year old. However, it's given us a great opportunity to open the dialogue about differences... and it's a dialogue I've been keeping open at every possible opportunity.
Because when we meet someone who looks different from us or different from the majority of people around us, we've got this down now. "Some people are brown. Some people are pink. Some people are tall and some are short. Angelica eats turkey and you eat tofu. Everyone is different and that's fabulous".
Sometimes, she's gotta think on that one a little, especially if it's something new and huge to work into her world scheme, like when we recently met someone who had just lost his leg in an accident. To my great blessing, this guy is a majorly positive force, so when my daughter asked, "How are you?" he replied, "I"m grrrreat!" (Yes, he sounded just like Tony the Tiger). She felt a little reserved and asked me a lot of questions on the way home, but in the end, it came down to this guy's "Grrrrreat!" as the thing that stuck in her mind.
I'm hoping that pointing out, instead of pretending that we don't see, differences among us in the world will help build a smoother road for the bigger talks about religion, race, sex, wars, politics, and third nipples.
What is your party line for explaining things that are new to your children? How have you handled what can be very awkward situations?