Felicitations for September: Happy New Year

Happy New Year! An unorthodox sentiment, but every parent knows the New Year starts in September.

Kids show up for their first day at school; a building full of people who seem to know what they are doing, a place where they are pushed outside their comfort zone, continually asked to reach beyond the familiar to the unknown, risk failure, and finally take it on faith that this shit will pay off. 

As I get older the opportunities to learn new things and be pushed outside my comfort zone dwindle. I also don’t exactly seek them out because, well … they are outside my comfort zone – and the older I get the less I like being … well uncomfortable.

I recently had a taste of that sort of challenge and realized how brave our children are to step into school every day.

I just started shooting the second season of American Crime. It’s an anthology; a new hybrid for network TV and an actor’s mecca. Every year it’s a brand new story with new characters in a new setting.

felicity huffman american crime

Just as a returning student feels different from the person she had been the year before, I felt changed. Walking onto the set felt new; I was unsure, frightened of making mistakes, worried about being bad, hoping to do good work and not sure what was required of me.

The first day the director said, “Felicity, maybe a little less like Cruella de Vil and a little more… human?” And he was right.

Compared to what students go through my unease was minor, but I was still outside my comfort zone.

But I was choosing that situation, which makes a huge difference. Our kids don’t get to choose what subjects they take! “Hey Mom! This year I’m only going to take P.E. and snack!” My daughters often say stuff like, “ What’s the point of school? I need to learn what taxes are and how to pay them. Not that an imaginary number becomes a real number when multiplied by an imaginary unit!”

I understand her point of view. Now that I have been out of school for a thousand years, I realize it wasn’t the STUFF in school; the subjects, the facts or the rote knowledge (90% of which I have forgotten) that really impacted me. It was being forced into new situations and subjects and those life lessons that really educated me.

Problem solving, making hard work habitual, learning how to be a good friend, making stupid mistakes, figuring out how much of a “yes” is in that “no,” learning how the power system works and how to make it work for me; were my true education. This was everything from “why was Ruby Linder mean to me for all of second grade?” to “Is it okay if my professor looks down my blouse as long as he passes me in computer programing?”

Finally, school populated my world. I am not a naturally gregarious person, so without school I would now own a lot of cats instead of having a lot of friends. In short, its deep value was pushing me outside my comfort zone every day.

This is all to say, I salute and celebrate kids for walking into a building every day full of the unknown, the challenging, the potential of failure and the constant question, “Why am I doing this?”

Maybe we all need to show up for the first day of 2nd grade. It’s good to step out and be scared, to not know the answer. It sure makes me feel alive, awake and expands me. And maybe as I drop my daughter off at her first day of 9th grade in a new school, I will have a deeper empathy and appreciation for her.

Here’s to our courageous children, and here’s to us being open, really alive and outside our comfort zone.

Happy New Year!