One of my most embarrassing moments ever: Pajama Day

I think it’s fair to assume that nearly every person on this planet (autistic and non-autistic) experiences some embarrassing, humiliating moments every once in a while. Since human beings are never perfect or flawless, we all have to deal with being in a really discomfiting situation at least a couple of times in our lives.

Naturally, people with Asperger Syndrome such as myself often experience more than our fair share of humiliating moments, given our  difficulties with socializing and our repetitive, “weird” behavior. I believe that a huge chunk of our most embarrassing moments occurs during childhood, when our social interaction skills and communication abilities are usually at their worst. If you’ve seen some of my previous posts on this blog, you’ll know that I am definitely no exception; many of my most humiliating experiences happened when I was a child (particularly between the ages of 8 and 14).

If I were to choose one specific moment that I felt was the most embarrassing of them all, it would have to be Pajama Day from when I was in Second Grade.

I think some of you might (vaguely) remember a Pajama Day when you were in elementary school. It’s a day when you the school allows you to come to class in your pajamas. Sounds pretty fun, right?

Well apparently, back in 1999 (I think), at least 95% of the kids in my school thought the idea was lame and decided to wear normal clothes instead. Unfortunately, I was one of the very few kids who thought it might be cool to sport our PJs to class. In fact, I can only remember one other student wearing pajamas to school that day.

The PJs I was wearing were Toy Story 2-themed (the film had come out earlier that year), and to be fair, I don’t think they looked embarrassing or silly upon retrospect. However, that didn’t stop much of 2nd grade class, all of whom were dressed in normal attire, from pointing and giggling at me. It didn’t take long to realize that everyone else decided against celebrating Pajama Day and thought that I was being ridiculous for wearing my PJs to school. One kid that I really hated back then made fun of the fact that I was wearing Toy Story-themed PJs, saying that stuff like that “was for babies” (yeah, he apparently thought it was uncool that I enjoyed one of the best animated films ever made).

Needless to say, I felt humiliated and just wanted to disappear right then and there. I think my face must have been as red as a tomato, and I must have been fighting super hard not to cry. Unable to deal with the embarrassment, I convinced the teacher to excuse me so that I could go to the nurse’s office. Fortunately, the nurse was nice enough to give me some extra clothing that belonged to other students that I got to wear for the rest of the day.

I was still somewhat embarrassed throughout the rest of the day, and had to deal with teasing from a couple of kids (especially from that one kid I mentioned earlier). Nonetheless, I was able to mostly survive the humiliation of being the only kid in class wearing his pajamas on Pajama Day. More importantly, though, I learned that day to never celebrate school “holidays” where you wear something weird or special. It may or may not have also played a part in why I haven’t worn pajamas to bed in a long, long, long time.

On another positive note, I don’t think I’ve experienced another moment where I’ve felt as humiliated as I did back then. Oh, I’ve certainly had more than a couple of embarrassing and shameful moments in my life afterward (having Asperger Syndrome certainly didn’t help in that regard), but none that made me feel as bad as I did back then. I suppose that’s one good thing I can say about the rest of my childhood and my life up to now. Hopefully I’ll be able to maintain this trend and avoid instances where I feel so humiliated that I want to disappear and die.

I apologize to those who were hoping to see something more related to Asperger Syndrome in this blog post. I simply really wanted to share this childhood memory of mine as it’s an experience that I’ll won’t forget anytime soon and that left an impressionable impact on my childhood as a whole. Hopefully some of you out there can relate to experiences like this one and can now back on them and say, “Yeah, that was seriously embarrassing, but I’m glad I remember them because, as bad as they were, they’re still a sort of important part of my life.”

Selling rocks

I think many of us have childhood memories that may not seem very significant upon first glance, yet are immensely special to us for one reason or another. These are moments during our youth that made us particularly joyful, and that we like to reminisce about every now and then – even if they didn’t leave that much of an impact on us. I have a couple of childhood memories that meet this description, many of which involve friends and family. One memory in particular that sticks out in my mind an awful lot is perhaps one of the most peculiar: it involves me “selling” rocks with another kid during recess.

Here is what I can remember from this experience: When I was in 4th or 5th grade, there was this boy I knew named Chris. To be honest, I didn’t really know him all that well, and I hardly spent time with him outside of recess. So anyway, I met Chris one day near one of the jungle gyms on the playground, where he was doing something a little odd with the small stones that filled the surrounding area. He was lining them up on the wooden barrier around the jungle gym, and occasionally talking to other kids, asking them if they wanted one. Instantly intrigued by what he was doing and having nothing better to do, I asked Chris if I could join him. Fortunately he was kind enough to let me partake in his little activity, which he called “selling rocks.”

So for the next couple of weeks that followed, almost every day during recess I would “sell” rocks with Chris. We pretty much collected little stones around the jungle gym area, picking out ones that we thought looked especially pretty, and placed them on the wooden slabs that surrounded the jungle gym. Afterwards, we tried to get the attention of other kids and ask them to “buy” some of the stones from us. Of course, we never actually charged them money or anything; we essentially just gave the stones away to anyone who would take them.

This “rock-selling” business went on for a while, but unfortunately, it didn’t last longer than a couple of weeks. I suppose Chris eventually got bored with the game, and I wasn’t really interested in doing anything else with him. Sadly, we didn’t do a whole lot together or hang out with each other much afterwards. I did see Chris here and there during middle and high school, but mostly because some of the friends I had at the time knew him. Essentially, that rock-selling game we played in elementary school is the only thing that connects us.

Nonetheless, that rock-selling game was more than enough for me to cherish Chris as an acquaintance, even if it was only for a brief period of time. The fact remains that, as boring or stupid as it may sound to other people, this little activity was loads of fun for me as a kid. Back then, until it was over, I looked forward to selling rocks with Chris every day. It’s hard to fully explain why I liked it so much, but I will say that it was one the only activities I genuinely enjoyed during recess. Unlike many of the other recess activities I tried out in elementary school, I was actually having a lot of fun with this game, feeling a little sad when I had to stop and go back inside. I suppose the fact that Chris and I were playing pretend, something that I loved to do as a kid, may partially explain why I was having so much fun with it.

More importantly though, this was one of the only recess activities that I could truly enjoy with another person. Indeed, most of the time when I was in recess, I was either forcing myself to play games with the other kids that I didn’t really like, or I was trying to have fun by myself. Selling rocks with Chris was one of the very few things to do in recess that was not only entertaining for me, but also involved someone else around my age. I got to interact with him in a way that I wasn’t able to achieve with the other kids in class, and I was just as engaged in this game as he was. It was as if we were doing something that, in a manner of speaking, “spoke to me”; allowing to me to be myself without having to do it entirely alone. This wasn’t something I got to do very often with other kids my age, even among my friends.

That’s why whenever I think of really positive moments from my childhood, one of the first to pop up in my head is pretending to sell rocks with Chris in elementary school. Sure it may not seem like too much at first, and I doubt that it made a big influence on my life overall, but I genuinely treasure the memory with all of my heart. Like I said, it’s one of those things that gave me so much pleasure as a kid, simply for being an activity that I got to fully immerse myself in with another kid my age. The fact that this sort of thing was rare back then might be sufficient to make it one of my fondest childhood memories. I guess all I can say for now is thank you so much, Chris. You may not be able recall our rock-selling game very well, but you ought to know how much it meant for me to be able to play it with you back then.

Imaginary Play

I believe a great chunk of my childhood can best be described as follows: my mind was entirely preoccupied with images and scenes from movies, TV shows, and video games. Much of my time in school, at home, in public, or elsewhere was spent mentally reenacting things that I saw on my television screen, often times acting it out physically. In other words, I was essentially trapped in this fantasy world that was governed by movies and television, the kinds of stuff that parents are supposed to limit their children’s access to. Boy, do I wish I listened to my parents when they tried to get me to spend more time outside or reading books.

Usually what I was fixated on throughout the day involved something like an animated Disney film, a Nickelodeon cartoon, a video game such as Crash Bandicoot or Sonic the Hedgehog, or any similar form of media. Pretty much anything animated and targeted at kids that I watched/played repetitively would directly influence my behavior, whether I was by myself or was around others. From what I can remember, much of what I acted out would vary based on what I was obsessed with at the moment.

For instance, I can recall one memory from Kindergarten where, out of boredom I guess, I fantasized about being in a scene from Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. Once or twice during recess in 2nd grade, I pretended I was in this computer game called Chex Quest (I doubt anyone here will remember it). Several times while I was playing at a park or hanging with friends, I visualized myself in some sort of trailer or commercial for a movie or television show. I even used to fantasize about being a Powerpuff Girl, or rather the Powerpuff Girls, pretending that each of the kids at school I didn’t like represented a villain from the show.

Whatever I was trying to act out, I was hardly in sync with reality during my “imaginary play.” I think I pretty much refused to acknowledge what was really going on around me, and I certainly didn’t concern myself with how others perceived me. Heck, I doubt I was even aware at the time that people thought I acted so bizarrely. I was usually far too busy trying to recreate images and scenes that I witnessed from a television set to notice anything.

Here is what my behavior typically looked like when I was engaged in my little fantasies: I would mumble, whisper, or talk out loud to myself; flail my arms about wildly; jump up and down excitedly; run all over the place like I was going crazy; fool around with different objects or pieces of nature that I found; or I might talk to someone while quoting some dialogue from something I saw on television. In other words, it truly did look like I was in my own world, oblivious to my surroundings and other people’s judgment.

I can also distinctly remember how people tended to react to my behavior. They were mostly confused, troubled, weirded out, deeply concerned, or sometimes just amused. My family and teachers would look at me slightly worried, unsure of what to tell me or how they might get me to stop. Meanwhile the other kids at school would stare at me as if I needed to be institutionalized, and would occasionally laugh at me or poke fun of me behind my back. For some reason, I didn’t quite understand why people would react to me like this until much later. It took till sometime in high school, I believe, when I realized that people didn’t see my imaginary behavior the same way that I did.

I would love to say that at some point as I grew up, this habit of mine faded away and I became far more conscientious of what I was doing. It didn’t. All throughout high school and even somewhat during college, I continued to publicly act out various scenarios I saw from electronic media. Perhaps it may have slightly improved over time, but alas it remained part of my regular routine for quite some time. What I did usually involved impersonating different characters from movies, video games, as well as online videos; imagining my own game or TV franchises, which were heavily based on already existing ones; and pretending to play various instruments in a rock band while listening to music. Heck, I was even playing with toys quite regularly while I was still in high school. I think that one of the reasons I don’t do it today is because I no longer have any toys to play with.

To an extent, this sort of does go on even to this day. I’m certain that I do it substantially less than I did , say, 3 or 4 years ago. Nonetheless, every now and then I will imagine myself in some sort of role derived from movies, television, video games, or videos from the web. It’s a habit that’s seriously tough to break, and it probably won’t be a while till I’ve completely grown out of it. Sure it might be a relatively harmless behavior, but I believe it will be necessary to stay in touch with reality for the sake of my own image. I really want to be perceived by others as someone who is approachable, sociable, and not trapped in his own little world.

However, I completely understand why many people with autism, whether they be children or adults, might choose to continue this sort of “imaginary play.” If I can be perfectly honest, it’s still rather fun; I mean, who doesn’t like to play pretend every now and then? I think for most people who do it regularly, it’s a perfect way to escape the real world when it’s too boring, disagreeable, or unfriendly for them, which it sadly often is.