Hills and High School

“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability… To be alive is to be vulnerable.”  Madeleine L’Engle.

Today* was a big day.  I dropped off my oldest for his first day of high school.  As I was driving my kids to school, I knew that I wanted to do hill repeats for my run.  On what would be a challenging day for them, I wanted to do something hard myself as well.  Truth be told, I had taken the summer off practicing hills.  My summer runs were pretty unstructured….heading out the door and running anywhere from 5 – 10 miles at any pace that felt good, with no specific plan.

But now that school was back in session, I craved more structure back in my runs.  As I was dropping my new high-schooler off,  I was more worried than he was.  I told him not to get stressed if he was late finding his classes; it’s a really big school; it may take a few days to find his way around….that I’m sure the teachers would expect that.  “Yeah, I’m not worried,” he said.  With a quiver in my lips, hands, and heart, I watched my baby jump out of the car.  He was a little nervous, but more confident and excited.  I then took my other two to their first day of 7th and 4th grade before parking my car to go for my run.

Here’s the thing.

High school was hard…very hard…. for me.  Not academically but socially.  I can’t remember my very first day…or any of the days of that first month.  That seems really strange to me.  What I do remember, is almost 4 years of walking around with hesitancy; never fully comfortable.  I also remember sitting with my cousin and a calendar, while we planned out and wrote down my outfit for every day of the first month of school.  But I don’t recall the actual days…I feel like I should…and I also can’t recall even one time when someone in high school made a specific mean or negative comment to me….not one time.  So why was it hard?  I’ve wanted to try to figure out why so that maybe I can help navigate my kids better.

The friends that I did have, were/are the sweetest girls/ladies who did try to get me more involved in school functions and get togethers…I was the one who held back.  The people who were not in my circle of friends but were in my classes, I have made some peripheral connections with through the world of social media…they are lovely….I’m sure they always were.  Something doesn’t add up.

So on this monumental day in my son’s life, I was yearning for a hard uphill run.  I was actually looking forward to the physical exertion of hill repeats, and I was hoping that the exertion and depletion would also jog my memory…making me recall those first few days …bring up a suppressed sentence from the past…that would serve as an A-ha of why I held back…a true run-therapy session.

I start doing my hills, and it is hard.  Not practicing them for almost 3 months has definitely de-conditioned me, leaving me panting mid-way through each one rather than at the top.  But as I run up and down, no suppressed memory comes to surface…no A-ha.  I can not remember my first day of high school, and I most definitely can not remember a single negative statement.  There were quite a few made to me in 5th grade when we first moved back to the U. S. and I spent one year in Madison, Wisconsin…and I’ve always remembered those comments calling me dark and dirty and telling me to go back to where I came from.  I can still feel the heat in my face…the pulsing in my temples…the tears furiously blinked back….from those snickers.  But then in 6th grade we moved to Pittsburgh, and from 6th grade on….  Up hills panting, down hills exhilarated and nothing…nada!!  Not one negative statement.

I can only conclude that any social difficulty or discomfort that I had in high school came from a lack of being comfortable in my own skin.  That lack originated from immigrating to the U.S. in the middle of the Iran/Iraq war… and some harsh words in that year in Madison, which I then carried with me over to Pittsburgh and through the rest of my middle and high school years.

What I do remember…is when things started to change.  In the summer before my senior year, my parents sent me to Europe to visit some cousins for an extended time, and my late aunt came from Iran to visit me there.  She had been such an important part of my childhood, and I was reunited with her after about 7 years.  When we saw each other in the Frankfurt airport, we clung to each other like a mother-daughter who had been apart.  She then pulled away and held my face in her hands and translated to English said, “Your eyes dance and sing and tell stories; they are the most beautiful eyes that I would recognize anywhere.”  That single sentence, that moment, which is engrained in my memory and I have carried for 25 years, along with some extended time spent with family when I had a genuinely good time… gave me the confidence to get through senior year with a little more social involvement, and enter college with the determination to reinvent myself.  One day I should sit down and really tell you about my late aunt….or maybe I will just continue with little snippets…because where does a story like that even begin.

Well, it’s not like my incredible parents didn’t make positive statements to me ….because they certainly did…all the time…”You are smart, kind, beautiful, can do anything” were mantras that I heard daily.  But as kids, we don’t really listen to our parents…or we don’t 100% believe them…they are our parents…of course they think that.

So why am I writing this post?  This post which has been the most difficult one to put out…. Because the conclusion of my hills run is to tell you to turn to the kids and teens around you…the ones that are not your children….and look them in the eye and tell them something great….you never know what effect it will have on their life…  And more importantly, I’m writing this post because the adult me has decided to put myself out there….to take risks and expose myself….  At a time when I’m hoping my kids will take chances, push themselves, and embrace change….. I can’t ask my kids to be vulnerable if I can’t do it myself.

*The first draft of this post was written on 8/11/15, the kids’ first day of school.  My history…I was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1973…lived in Iran from ages 3-10, and then moved back to the U. S. in 1983, when I spent one year in Madison, Wisconsin, before moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This post was originally published on 8/17/15

Paria Hassouri