Meet. Greet. Two words that fill my heart with dread. In church, back when I attended church, one part I always awaited with apprehension was when the pastor/minister/preacher told the congregation to turn and greet their neighbors. Which way do I turn? What do I say? Do I stick my hand out to shake? If I concentrate really hard, will I be able to make myself invisible? Maybe if I cross my arms and snap?*

When I was 12, I attended mass with a catholic friend almost every week. For those of you unfamiliar, Catholics have a booklet that tells you what to say during call and response and during the meeting of neighbors. I apologize if I just got all of that wrong, it’s been almost 30 years since I last attended mass and I was still mostly lost then. When you greet your neighbors during mass, you say, “Peace be with you,” and they’re supposed to say, “And also with you.” Unless they say it first, in which case you do the responding. I still didn’t look forward to greeting my neighbors, but having a script soothed some of the anxiety for me.

Our school district has a thing they do just before school starts back up where all the kids and their families come to the school during the same 60 minute period, find out who their teachers will be for the year, and traipse down to the classrooms to meet said teachers. There is generally a classroom scavenger hunt involved. I’m sure there are people who are thrilled by the noise and general chaos of this event. These people are not of my acquaintance.

When Zoo Keeper started kindergarten two years ago, several people warned me that the meet and greet was not a good idea for us to attend. They said I could request a meeting with his new teacher prior to the meet and greet, so that’s what we did. I don’t have any idea what we did last year.

This year, I somehow forgot that the general meet and greet doesn’t work for us. For any of us. I guess I got caught up in the idea of both boys attending the same school and imagining that we could just be a standard family within the walls of the school. Because I’m an idiot who has apparently unlearned anything she ever knew about autism. In fact, I went to kindergarten orientation last night and, when BamBam’s kindergarten teacher was talking about her experiences as part of the PTSA (parent, teacher, student association) as a parent at our school resulted in friendships that are as close today as they were 15 years ago, I started thinking what a great thing it would be for me to get more involved in the PTSA.

So, the four of us traipsed to the school today for meet and greet. We took the requested supplies for each class with us to leave in the associated classrooms, but forgot to bring them in from the car. We looked at the list of second grade class assignments, noting which kids we already knew.

BamBam was already antsy at this point, claiming he wouldn’t go inside the school at all. In hindsight, I should have agreed and walked him home then and there. Instead, we took him in to the auditorium/cafeteria where they introduce the teachers before sending the herds off to meet them. BamBam not only refused to sit down, he insisted I pick him up and hold him. It’s been more than a year since he’s done that. At least this time he agreed to be passed off to Sparky when my arms got tired and I began to try and shift his weight. You know how some kids will wrap themselves around their parents so that they can stay there even without the parent holding on to them? Our kids are the opposite of that. They’re the ones who don’t hold on. At all. It’s like holding a 50 pound sack of squirmy flour that occasionally leans back to look around.

When the introductions and announcements were over, we tried to hang back and let the majority of the crowd disperse before leaving the cafeteria/gym.  We miscalculated the time and ended up in the crush anyway. It was stiflingly hot, bodies were close, and the noise was deafening. It didn’t get better when we reached Zoo Keeper’s classroom. If anything, it got worse because the bodies were no longer moving; they were all trying to do the same thing in the same space at the same time. We stood in line to meet Zoo Keeper’s teacher. I couldn’t hear much of what she said, but it didn’t matter because BamBam took it upon himself to introduce her to our whole family. She handed us the scavenger hunt and I separated from the family to grab the forms spread across the table for parents to fill out.

I returned to my boys who were standing just inside the doorway, the two young ones fighting over the paper with the scavenger hunt on it. Sparky said, “Okay if I go get the supplies from the car now?”

And that’s when I realized I was overstimulated almost to the point of meltdown. Not the pacing/hand flapping kind, but the kind where I curl into the fetal position and try to shut out the world. Sparky could see it on my face, which was lucky for me because I was about to tell him to do it, having decided to just go ahead and push myself over the edge. It’s not unusual for me to do that. It takes a pretty big toll on me emotionally and physically, but I seem to be able to hide that pretty well while still in public. Either I still look like I’m coping well or I always look like I’m frazzled and a little more doesn’t make a big diff – I’m not sure which.

However I looked, Sparky could see how I felt and told me he’d wait. I’m pretty sure I thanked him. Then I startled the boys by snatching the scavenger hunt sheet from them while telling them rather harshly to stop it.

Sparky took BamBam out in the hall while I took Zoo Keeper’s hand to complete the scavenger hunt. We were looking for the second item on the list when I realized what it was Zoo Keeper was saying to me. He said, “…and I know you don’t want me to get furious with you.” In my distress, I had forgotten that he was likely having an even harder time of it. I bent down so we were eye to eye and asked him what it was that was going to make him furious. He pointed at the paper in my hand, saying that he wanted it back. I handed it to him, apologizing and telling him I had just wanted the fighting to stop.

That wasn’t entirely true, though. After he had the paper back, I realized that I had also taken it so that we could get the scavenger hunt over with and leave. Zoo Keeper is a dawdler in the best of times, but a situation like that increases that tendency ten-fold. He just stood there, smiling because he had his paper back, until I started directing the hunt again.

Which is when a kid in his class came up and told me he didn’t know what to do next. I was thinking you sure picked the wrong girl, kid. But, of course, he hadn’t. He’d picked the best mark because I found myself asking him if he wanted to join us in our scavenger hunt. He was non-committal, but told me something about scavenger hunts and Brazil. I asked if this was in Brazil and he looked at me like I was stupid and said it was in America. Then there was something about Disney. I honestly had no idea what he was talking about, so I asked if he’d met his teacher yet and offered to take him over and introduce him. He disappeared for a second, which is when it occurred to me to wonder where his mom or dad was. He came back and I asked him, suggesting maybe his mom would want to meet the teacher as well. He pointed to a woman sitting at a table filling out the forms I had stuffed in my purse to complete later and told me, “No, she said it’s okay.” WTF?

I pointed to the teacher and said, “She’s the one in the white shirt right there. Just go up and tell her your name.” Then I turned to direct my own kid in the completely unnecessary scavenger hunt. We were almost done when Sparky came in to relieve me, telling me to go sit in the hall with BamBam, who had refused to re-enter the room. After a minute or so in the hall, it occurred to me that he and I should just go meet his teacher so we could be done faster.

I flagged Sparky down to tell him, but he said they were ready to move on anyway, so we all went together. I chose the route outside the building because there was nobody else out there and it was cooler. Sparky went to get and deliver the supplies while I took the boys to BamBam’s classroom.

BamBam has the same kindergarten teacher as Zoo Keeper had, so I asked Zoo Keeper to lead him on the scavenger hunt there. I still had to prompt each step, but at least there weren’t as many people around.

We went into the hall to find the bathroom, which BamBam used without a second’s hesitation (Hallelujah!), and ran into several people we know. Seeing them was the highlight of my experience. Still, I’d rather enjoy seeing them under more pleasant circumstances.

We went back through the classroom to do the last item on the scavenger list: find where the kids line up in the morning before class. We went through the door from the classroom to outside and I pointed to the wall, telling BamBam about lining up for school. His face got red and he began to scream at me about not going to school and wanting to go home and not wanting to be here at all. I knelt in front of him, waited for him to take a breath, and asked him to listen to me. He hesitated and I told him that there was no school today, I was showing him where to line up on Wednesday, and that we were going to the car right now. He said, “Oh. Okay.” and started walking toward the parking lot.

Here’s what I learned from today’s experience:

  1. Always arrange to meet teachers outside of meet and greet hours.
  2. Scavenger hunts are completely optional and we need to opt out.
  3. The boys being at the same school makes things easier logistically, but it also makes things within that school more complicated.
  4. When I’m having trouble coping, it’s likely Zoo Keeper and BamBam are having even more trouble. Unless they’re the ones I’m having trouble coping with.
  5. I probably should not become active in the PTSA.

Now I just need to find a way to remind myself of these things next August. And I need to finish all the forms teachers gave me as well as the additional ones I’m preparing for them so they are prepared for our boys’ challenges. And the schedules I’m preparing for the boys to make mornings easier. And afternoons. And evenings. And…excuse me while I look for a paper bag to breathe into.

*Like Bert from Soap. No? Not ringing a bell? Must be nice to be young.