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West Coast.

#13 Embracing the unknown

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Patrícia Mota
Patrícia Mota

It must be one of the expressions that works in every language I know.

And that it's much easier said than done.

I remember when I was 13, when we moved to another school district, I convinced my parents not to change schools or swimming clubs, so that we could continue with what we had known until then.

Years later, I was one of the first friends to have a license and a tarmac-eating machine (my beloved Citroen AX), so I could give them a bit of leeway at the road crossings I know best. I'm grateful they never patiently charged us for the hours on the IC19.

On the contrary, this school year we convinced the children to change everything, and despite their obvious initial resistance, they agreed to embrace the unknown, with the sole promise of doing their best in this adventure.

We're all going to try to do our best, and that's all it takes," he promised.

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Of course, Mercedes, pragmatic as it is, has come to question what exactly this cliché means.

We agreed that, in class, in trying to make friends, in homework, in extracurricular activities, in the programs that we propose, or that come up... in everything, even with the temptation to close themselves up like a shell, and because it's easy to run away from new experiences by staying within their comfort zone, we just asked them to please try not to close in on themselves, to strive to learn as much as possible, to ask for help whenever they felt the need, and to try the unknown.

Flavors, experiences (only legal, and by the way with our approval - note to the eldest daughter), and anything else that came up in this adventure. Of course, if you ask them, what do you mean you want to go to the pool? It's January! they reply with the same argument and convince us.

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Before Christmas, Maria came home and said that she would like to try to be in a more advanced math class. She felt she was being challenged in the other subjects, but felt that mathematics was already in a position to progress to the next level.

We didn't know that there were different levels within the same subject, and the idea I was always given by people who, despite never having been or lived in this education system, or in the USA, was that it was much easier, and that my children, having been in the system they were in until they came here, would be at ease, making comments that were not very favorable in many ways, to what is happening on this side of the world in education, culture, etc?

We were always filtering, especially for the sisters who, when they heard something like this, were even more apprehensive before coming, and in a practical way, we were deconstructing this, and asking them, about those who are so sure, how long they've been in the US, which states they've traveled through, how many American or international students they've met or taught, and that California alone has 4x more people than Portugal, so these generalizations sound a bit abusive.

We managed to relax the girls and explained that the decision had been well thought out, that we had talked to their teachers, coaches, therapists and people who were important to us, and that we weren't crazy to propose this adventure despite the abusive generalizations. That they should worry less about that and more about what they can control.

If it did go wrong, we'd do something about it. I think they trusted us, so far!

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With Maria's proposal about math, I wrote an email to the school counselor, who replied the same day (I'm still not used to this efficiency), saying that she appreciated the concern and the contact, and that she proposed a math test for Maria to place her in the corresponding level, or in the most advanced class there is - Honors.

And so it was, the next day, a test of 45 questions in 45 minutes, multiple choice with 4 options and no calculator at hand. Fortunately, we only found out about this after the test! What nerves!

She scored 67% and needed to have scored >90% to get into Honors. Even so, since she had such a high score, she was moved to a more challenging math class, "Fast Pace Math", which she would start after Christmas.

Everything was fine until the day before. The night before returning to school, a disastrous meltdown...

After pulling Maria's leg, she blurted out, "What was I thinking, proposing to change classes! - Now that I'm integrated! - I'll have to adapt to new teachers and classmates all over again! - And I don't even know them all! I feel like running away again!" I asked her where, and she said: "I don't know where! I don't even know where!"

Drama, tears included, I replied that I clearly understood the sentiment, and that before we came I had been attacked by one of these "amoks" that I didn't show them, and our adventure only seemed crazy to me.

She went wide-eyed. And I suggested that she should trust what had seemed right to her at the end of the lessons, and should at least try it for a day, or a week if she wasn't sure whether she still wanted to run away, you don't know where.

And I promised to talk to the counselor again, to ask her to return to her old class if she thought it was best. But only after the first day or the first week, she would decide.

Embrace the unknown, and then tell us about it. And so it was.

He left school at 3:10 p.m., and in that same minute he sent a message. "Don't worry, I liked it. You don't have to talk to the counselor, I'm staying in this class." I guarantee it must be like winning the lottery. You even breathe lighter!

That week, the principal who had noticed this change and had volunteered to do morning announcements on the school radio sent her this message.

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I know that we have been extremely lucky, because education systems are made up of people, and if they are committed and empathetic people, it is fortunate that they cross our paths.

Contrary to the assurances of abusive comments, we have lived with people who are open to the diversity of backgrounds, uncomplicated and able to listen to our concerns and reach out to the students and their families. We are incredibly lucky.

A few days after the results came out at Mercedes' school, I received an email from the teacher with photos of an "A for a day" moment. We didn't know exactly what it was, but it was good, that much was clear from the amount of congratulations in the email.

When I asked Jenny, she said - That's a Big Deal! It's a school-wide nomination, each teacher nominates a student and explains why. And the school council elects the winner.

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We went to pick up the Mercedes.

She explained that when she heard her name on the school radio during the morning announcements, she thought she had misunderstood, but her friends stood up and clapped because the "A for a day" winner was from their class... "She felt like crying, but she wasn't sad at all, she was crying well, and she went to receive the prize, a little afraid that it was a mistake, but it wasn't a mistake, and then she was even happier. She added, "I know, I know I have to stop thinking about my prizes, but I'm just telling the truth, and then when I realized it was really for me, I was even happier, and I wasn't scared anymore. I was just happy, okay? Why are you crying now, Mommy?" Jesus, Mercedes... That's what came out of me.

And a few more lotteries in the chest, and the frustration of not knowing how to get rid of this impostor syndrome that won't let go of her, even though she throws herself into the unknown like Big People and conquers everything and everyone... my Cuca choné!

That afternoon we went to see the choir perform at a school event, and we loved it.

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And at the weekend she went to an Alice in Wonderland birthday party and took on the role of the Duchess to solve the mystery.

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A mystery, rigorous disguises and a lot of fun. I found myself looking at her and thinking, chicness is either innate or it isn't... The most sophisticated Cuca, even in disguise she doesn't lose her class! The best part was seeing her integrated into a group of dear friends.

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Maria, who is hooked on my college's basketball team while Cuca went to the party, took a friend to support the women's team and she was so happy.

Having to split up to keep up with the social schedules of the various children was something that always got on my nerves a bit, but now it's something to be thankful for too!

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And before classes started, my adventurous partner since I started university, who I always turn to when I need to decide about my professional life, came to LA with her sister Lara, and I went to pick them up.

They were coming in from the snow in New York, and when I spotted two sausages bounding towards me, it was a marvel of emotion...

To reminisce about old times, the first stop was of course at the university, for contextualization and collections for our project. They did match controls and left with the feeling of science done! Really geeky.

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In the afternoon the sisters arrived, as always with a lot of tasks to complete, and thanks to the help of two nerds, we managed to finish everything in record time and get it off to a program.

It was basically the same as the group work and study sessions more than 20 years ago, but with underage girls making a fuss. The children became fans of the tutor geeks, and I had the next few days off from the afternoon shift. It was wonderful.

The tutors left impressed with the demands of the tasks and the performance of the sisters, and relieved that it was school policy not to have tasks for the weekend.

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In the evening after dinner (at 6pm!), to relax and get into the spirit of the campus, we came to support the CSULB student team in another match, and they were winners again!!!

It might be one of our favorite shows!

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To make the most of the weekend, we rented the car and headed for LA. It never rains in California, until it starts!

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And although it was a different landscape, we managed to pass several iconic spots in record time without the crowds, and you got a good idea of Venice Beach, LA down town, Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills...

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Hollywood, the Chinese Theater and the Observatory. The rain didn't slow us down and it was an intense day.

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We arrived home melted, but we still had time to find a mega sofa in the most generous community I've ever met, and literally carry the sofa, vacuum, clean and assemble it (even though it looks new, I've created two very itchy madams), and enjoy a real living room where we can all sit comfortably.

We even managed to dismantle the old sofa to return it to the same community.

We went to rest very crumpled but happy with the super productive day.

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This picture is already out of date, because yesterday Maria found a 3x4m carpet, beautiful and as good as new, and before anyone wanted to take it, she carried the carpet home by herself, along with her school bag, lunch box, coat and super bottle of water. Now it's spectacular!

The next day we headed for San Diego.

La Joya, full of sea lions, seals, pelicans and other animals I don't know the name of, Embarcadero, with its mega aircraft carrier, and then we went to Old Town for lunch at a Mexican restaurant.

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San Diego has a huge Mexican influence, and although we are becoming more and more knowledgeable about these flavors, we all agreed that it was the best Mexican we have tasted so far. Thank you Piolhita!

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The children who have had to be motivated to always try new flavors, even if they look different from what they're used to, have already discovered that these explosions of flavor in the mouth are rewarding for overcoming uncertainty, and today they have more world of flavors in their bodies and openness to new gastronomic experiences. Even if they only taste it, if they decide they don't want to repeat it, I don't insist any more. But they have discovered things that seemed strange, but are "very delicious", as Matias says.

Still in the Old Town (a preserved historic park) full of great stores and restaurants, Matias went into the candy shop, and since he has no qualms about trying new things, he was ecstatic.

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In the afternoon we went to Balboa Park, which we'll have to return to explore further.

It's huge and should be very beautiful in spring.

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We ended the weekend with little room for maneuver other than to prepare for the start of the week. But we managed to do everything we set out to do!

During the week, Rodrigo went to New York on business, and we still managed to stroll around Seal Beah and its surroundings in between obligations.

It's been a really good few days having friends like this here.

Once again, hard goodbyes, and the certainty that apart from my cousins, my friends are also the best.

When we woke up the following Saturday, very late (it was after 8am!), we "breakfasted" calmly and headed off, not really knowing what to expect, to one of my favorite beaches at 17, Laguna Beach.

We took shade, an oval ball and water. Bathing suits just in case, and off we go!

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It felt like summer, so we bought pizzas on the way and picnicked on the lawn.

It's confirmed, it's an incredible spot, my memory wasn't distorted.

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We met an international Portuguese family, with whom Maria struck up a conversation (the same Maria who used to be so shy, but now strikes up conversations with strangers), and with whom I sincerely hope to meet more often, we tried unsuccessfully to see the whales, and we watched a mega sunset.

In the summer there are open-air jazz concerts. I can't wait!

Embracing the unknown is nerve-wracking and difficult for everyone, but it can actually be "very delicious".

I hope these three always remember this.


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