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.  If you are newly following my blog, I first wrote about practicing hill repeats in a much more lighthearted post called Hills and Lumbersexuals.


Highschool Graduation, 1991. Pittsburgh, PA . Mt. Lebanon Highschool

About Paria

Runner, mother, pediatrician, blogger

15 comments on “Hills and High School

    • I’m glad the post spoke for you…. I know that you do your fair share of run-therapy as well….as I suspect most runners do. That is the common thread that binds most of us.

  1. What a touching post. High school was very painful for me, especially my freshman year. Gawky, awkward, and a late bloomer, I was bullied in a very mean way by some girls who had formerly been my friends. I became very cautious after that. Like you, I carried that experience with me. When I first started my blog, I was afraid for my friends to find out about. And interestingly, now they all know and are really supportive. Who knew?

    Funny coincidence, in the early 1980s, my high school boyfriend went to UW Madison. He got an apartment with a guy from Iran. What a nice guy–I often wonder what happened to him.

    • I guess in some way or another, high school is probably hard for all of us…even for those whom it doesn’t look hard… although it’s clearly much harder for some than others. Thanks for sharing your experience. This was a post I was hesitant to put out, but I think that the posts with the most meaning are often ones we have trepidation about.

  2. I loved reading this and I can completely relate to wanting the exertion of hills or speed work on a hard day emotionally. It really does help. I can also relate to the love of an aunt. I’m lucky mine is still with me and, after my mom died, she became my surrogate. I cherish so many things about her and things she has said to me. Thank you for the reminder to pass it on…
    PS – You look gorgeous in that graduation photo!

  3. I don’t know how you write a post every week. I can barely comment every week! But I do read your post every week – sometimes more than once – then I just let it settle and reflect before I respond. Having said that, I think I did my fastest turnaround on your most recent post about Crossing Bridges, and this is my slowest, I think. Ahhh – balance, yes?

    A big part of my yoga teacher training this year is self-inquiry and meditation. Neither of which I think *fist pump – yes*. But I’m seeing the importance of both for improvement, growth, evolution. You know (maybe not so much then, but by my recent reveal) personally high school was difficult for me too. I wish we could’ve helped each other more so then to get comfortable in the skin we live in and breathe in, but then maybe to change that would’ve changed where you and I are at today – on a path of self-discovery.

    By the way, your eyes twinkled then just as they do now. I should’ve told you that in high school when I introduced myself and was determined to be friends with you – it was your eyes that I noticed first. 🙂

    • You don’t have to comment every week, but I really appreciate that you do….especially as your comments are always well thought out. It IS difficult to write a post every week…I will not deny that. But every week that I want to skip a post, someone sends me a message or something happens that provides the motivation for me to try to come up with something. And I actually agree with you that I don’t necessarily think that it was a bad thing that we didn’t help each other more…because we would not be who we are today if it wasn’t for some of what we have had to go through… thank you for the eyes comment…xoxo…

    • Thank you for reading and your words… Now you know that we were not better friends (as I was not with others) because I was in hiding…disappearing in the background….but that is all changed now….and you have the biggest and most infectious smile of anyone…I’m glad I’ve gotten to discover that:)

  4. Great post. I was just talking about moving while in high school to a neighbor girl tonight. I shared my story about moving to Mt Lebanon hs in 9th grade. I am constantly giving my kids and their friends social scenarios. They laugh at me sometimes but learn. I hope the lessons I taught them stick.
    I always thought of you as a beautiful , smart , nice person in high school.

    • Thank you Jen! You were sweet back then…are sweet now. And your kids and their friends are lucky to have you going through and helping them navigate these social scenarios:)

  5. Your eyes DO dance and sparkle! Evidence of the heart of gold inside. Loved this post, Paria, putting yourself out there, and the reminder to embrace all teens with highly encouraging, genuine words. PS–I too, planned all my outfits first few months freshman year. Wrote em all out in a journal. 😉

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