The route I sometimes run in the morning takes me past several schools, including the largest high school in the city.  (It has 4300 kids.  I went to a school with 3200, so I’m hardly a small-school girl, but 4300 seems mindbogglingly big to me.)  This morning I start work a little later than usual, so I went for my run at about 7:15 instead of my usual 6am.  An unexpected side effect of this delay was that I was running past the high school right as kids were streaming in for the day.

Is it embarrassing to admit that I got a little bit of a high school anxiety flashback?

I didn’t loathe high school, but I certainly didn’t love it.  Like many, I felt nervous and self-conscious and left out much of the time (this despite the fact that I had some truly stellar friends, several of whom I am still close with today, 15 years later.)

Running around the school this morning, in my schlubby yoga pants and sweaty face and slow, plodding pace, I felt that old familiar pang of self-consciousness.  As I passed a group of boys, they burst into laughter, and I immediately assumed they were laughing at me.  (Which = preposterous, as I’m certain that a group of sophomores pays about as much attention to the 30 year old lady jogging past them as they do to their geometry teacher.  As in, not much.)

It’s funny: when I was a teacher, I walked confidently through the halls of the schools I worked in, never really worried about what the kids thought of me.  (Because I knew, for the most part: they either thought I was pretty cool or totally annoying, and I was fine with both assessments.)  Even now, when I’m doing schools stuff for my work, I can walk into the halls of a high school or middle school and feel just fine, even though those kids don’t know me at all.  But something about jogging past them in all my sweaty non-glory made me feel a little nervous and awkward. It reminded me of the time when it seemed like so much could turn on an offhanded comment or a minor mixup or an embarrassing gaffe.  And I was in high school in the mid-90s, when we were all about grunge-y tshirts and baggy jeans, so I didn’t even have to worry about committing social suicide by carrying the wrong purse or wearing jeans by the wrong designer like kids do today.  (Or at least that’s what Gossip Girl would have me believe.)

Around this time of year, as the weather starts to turn and spring and summer approach, I often feel pangs of nostalgia for the old days.  I recall how free it felt to go out, newly-obtained drivers’ license in hand, music way too loud, hanging out with friends on the beach as the weather got warmer and the nights got longer.  I think of awkward, long-anticipated first kisses in parks on balmy spring and summer nights, and the rush of staying out past curfew and speeding home, hoping not to get in trouble.  I remember sitting on the sand with a high school boyfriend, watching a lightning storm roll over the lake, talking about college and the future and the joy of feeling for all the world like someone really got me for the first time.

I usually think of these times a little wistfully, thinking that my adult life could use a dose of that exhileration.  But jogging past the high school this morning, I remembered that it was exhilerating in part because there was the ever-present risk of rejection and embarrassment, angst and anguish.  And so today, as I plodded along in my old-lady sweats, I felt pretty okay with being past all that.

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