After decades of both blatant and subliminal harassment, I was fortunate enough to discover that I was an introvert. Well, that’s not quite accurate, I knew I was an introvert, it’s just that I had been conditioned to believe that this was a defect, on par with other forms of mental illness. It was only after dabbling a bit in Myers-Briggs personality typology that I learned that introversion was not a character flaw, it was a predisposition. And that there were others that, like me, did not enjoy being surrounded by strangers.

(If you want a quick run-down on the difference between Extroversion and Introversion, this is a good summary)

This was a revelation. After all those years of apologizing because I didn’t really want to go hang out in a crowded bar, or go to someone’s party, or even stand in line for tickets, I could acknowledge that my feelings were legitimate. For those of you that may have realized that you are now (gasp) living with an introvert, I suggest you read this excellent article on the care and feeding of introverts.

It’s all well and good to acquire self-knowledge, and to reach some accommodation with your own predispositions. However there are still obligations imposed by society that require us to face difficult situations head-on. And for us introverts, there are few obligations quite as demanding as a Grade School Open House.

My wife, bless her heart, is active in our children’s school. She has a nametag. She has been on committees, worked in classrooms, and knows the staff by their first names. It is not unusual for a small child I have never seen before to run up to us and give my wife a hug. I strongly support her commitment to our school and her involvement in our children’s education.

Except when it begins to conflict with say, having edible food in the house, but I digress.

However, even though my wife is glad to shoulder the burden of being a parent activist for our children, there are still several times each year when I am invited to attend a function at their school. And by invited, I mean expected to attend. The Open House at the beginning of each school year is such an event.

I believe that It Takes a Village to raise a child, and I’m the first to acknowledge that this school is Our Village. I think it’s important to hear the school’s priorities, and their philosophy on conflict resolution. It’s good to actually meet your child’s teacher, and hear what they expect from your child. But dear God, I’d rather have my toenails pulled out with rusty needle-nose pliers than attend Open House.

The school is filled with parents and small children. The noise level is indescribable, as children from kindergarten to fifth grade are constitutionally unable to either sit still or remain silent. Plus, younger siblings being pushed around in strollers add their wails and shrieks to the mix. Going down the hallway means rubbing elbows with the horde, while squeezing into the cafeteria for the spaghetti dinner ($2 suggested donation) or into the gymnasium for the presentation requires a genuine effort of will. And of course with so many bodies, it gets hot and stuffy in short order.

This would be challenging for me under the best of circumstances. But I don’t have the option of coping with the chaos when I’m fresh and rested. No, I have to come straight to the school from work, straight from my evening commute. I’m starting out feeling wilted and cranky, and it only goes downhill from there.

After perching on a tiny wobbly bench seat to eat spaghetti and garlic bread from a paper plate, after sitting in a noisy gym listening to the principal describe how important it is to read to my children, after fighting through the hallway like a salmon trying to spawn, I am now perfectly willing to saw my own leg off in order to escape.

We run into parents that we know. They look at me with concern. “Rough day at work? You look really tired.” Frankly, I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted from the constant struggle not to run screaming out onto the playground to get away from all of you. And every second I stand here in this waterfall of sound with a couple hundred other parents, and still don’t bolt for the door is a minor miracle.

Eventually, the evening comes to an end. Teachers have been introduced, classrooms have been visited. We have found our children’s artwork in the hallways. We have learned the expectations for homework in each of our children’s classes. Hands are shaken, and meaningful noises are made. And then I can finally escape. Escape home to the computer, or the XBox, or the solace of a good book. Finally, I can take a deep breath and begin to unwind from the stresses of the day, in the refuge of my own space.

And I try not to think about the Christmas program looming on the horizon.