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#5 Avocados and passion fruit

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Patrícia Mota
Patrícia Mota

On an adventure of this caliber, it's natural to focus on the comfort of the children at all levels.

Every once in a while, when I blur my lines, I remember that this all started because I came here to work! And when I remember that, it's also a mixture of excitement and butterflies in my stomach, because I make to-do lists every day, and it's rare that I eliminate all the points.

I think my children must be convinced that I don't really do anything apart from being an Uber bike mom, having a built-in translator and being a walking audiobook myself.

We read one book a week, and at the end of the week Mercedes has to write down what she thinks is the author's main idea, what she liked, what she didn't understand and what does or doesn't relate to her life. Written, filmed and sent to the teacher on Thursday evening. On Friday, start again with a new book.

It sounds good, but I confess that I always hope you choose easy books. And thin ones. I'm not proud of it, but who tells the truth?

I say we read because, after dinner, it's the main activity in the house: Mercedes listens to me like an audiobook and interrupts when she doesn't understand, following the words I'm reading; Maria puts on her phones and listens to Anne Frank while following what's written independently (bless her!); and Matias keeps an eye on his sister Cuca's books for a few minutes. After the Mercedes sprint we finish, either Rodrigo or I, if the Mercedes sprint is longer, with a story with puppets drawn for Matias, who is fed up with seeing so much written, and demands drawings... so I drink a lot of water and arrive at 8pm at night with my body feeling a bit frayed between being a child carrier on the best bike I've ever had, the normal tasks of being a parent (making sure the family is properly fed, clean and living in a pleasant environment, without an Elinir around (how I miss you!), being an audiobook with an integrated translator, and having a rather demanding job outside the home.

Let me explain. One of the intentions of these experiences is precisely to experience differences, and to grow... and at a professional level there are many differences.

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The first is the size of the campus. There are more than 50k students. I teach 2nd year students and collaborate on collections with 3rd year students.

To become a physiotherapist there is a 4-year basic training course (with a variety of curricular units and some more specific ones such as anatomy, physiology, pathology, etc.), which gives you access to a range of future health professions. And then another 3 years of advanced training to become a Doctor in Physical Therapy, after passing a national exam. So my students are in their 6th and 7th year of higher education. In other words, they already know a lot! And that's a good thing, but they also demand another level of preparation from me when we have appointments. Although it's not the first time I've taught, I still get butterflies.

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Another difference is the number of hours of independent work they have. They prepare themselves (with planned hours of work, documents to consult and questions that guide their study and that we send them the week before) to come and have lessons with us. This is the model I experienced on Erasmus as a student in Holland. But back then I didn't have the perspective of preparing a teacher for these classes. It's just that the discussions on the topics covered are anything but superficial. And sometimes I have the feeling that I'm already discussing topics with colleagues who ask interesting questions.

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I always end up happy. I've yet to end a meeting with students feeling that I've done them a disservice, or even a disservice. I've been happy all the way home, until I got on my super bike and went to pick up the kids fresh and fluffy (not!) for the second shift of the day.

When it's not students, it's meetings and data collection.

The meetings are scheduled in the calendar, i.e. at times that don't interfere with family life after 3pm. Top!

They have a schedule, and a duration, that is respected to the letter. I've also experienced this in Holland, but I find it hard to admit that it's not so much the case in Portugal or Spain. And I don't think it would be complicated to install this system in Lisbon, but to date, it simply hasn't been my reality.
Data collection... apart from everything that's available in the lab, what's new to me is that it's super organized, and it works. Everything works, and well!!!

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The lab techs are my favorite on campus, if something doesn't go according to plan, they fix it. In one of the labs where we do walking and running tests, one of the EMG sensors got stuck inside the box of the instrumented platform. I - in a panic... what now? with my ass in the air and thinking, there's that damn sensor with so many places to fall, and it's just stuck in the most inaccessible crevice. I realize I'm the only one with my ass in the air, and I see Jenny pick up the phone and call one of my favorites.

Basically, he had to dismantle the false floor to get the sensor out. But he waited for us to finish the collection with other equipment, and then left for more important tasks. My participation in this process? Zero. I thanked him several times, of course.

And I found myself remembering the day I entered the premises of the place where they were supposedly going to "let" us set up a similar system, and which flooded one rainy night. And until I came here I tried to find and presented various solutions to get our ferrarri stored in a pantry working. And all I got in response were problems. Some of them... perhaps I shouldn't write them down. And I also remembered that at the time I often thought that I was happy to be back with my avocados and passion fruit. But I was happy to feel the butterflies of possible ideas again... And I sped up thinking about the retro-shock of adapting to a place where my time is valued and respected as never before, and my opinion counts, and is continually requested... And when I propose something out of the box, the focus is not on the problems, but on the solutions... And I've calmed down thinking that if the retro-shock is too hard to manage, I'll always have my passion fruit and avocados that make me happy. Until then I hope to absorb everything, learn everything, enjoy everything, and hopefully take everything that's good back to my little corner.

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On the subject of cons... I had Mercedes ask me last week, "Mommy, what does an active shooter look like?... but I thought I didn't understand, can an active shooter look like a person?..." Glup.

They had drills at school. Fire, earthquake and active shooting, and they both came home with lots of questions.

We replied that for everything in life it's better to be prepared than unprepared. But I went to bed with my head spinning. Yesterday, I had my own drill on campus with the campus police. Summary: RUN. HIDE. FIGHT. There are no right or wrong choices in a situation like this. Anything but standing still and saying, "oups, you got me!" Elucidating...

I was reassured to learn that, according to the police, if we're worried about an active shooting on a California campus, we should be panicking about the possibility of a Hearth Quacke, as it's historically much more likely to happen here than the previous one.

In any case, their advice is to know what to do if any of these tragedies happen. And they explained to us that our students are adults. And that although we are leaders if a tragic situation happens, we have to let them decide and act as they see fit, trying not to compromise the safety of others. Like, "let's lock the room and hide quietly in here until the police arrive, if any of you want to run away, it's now".

Every time I've asked questions of the police, I've "knocked on wood" to scare them away, and yesterday during the drill I had palpitations. It was useful, but I hope I never have to use these lessons anywhere in the world.

In the meantime, and to break up the rather grim text, I have to share that we've been visiting some incredible places. We met a childhood friend of my father-in-law's, a Spaniard with a lot of world in his body, an open head, and incredible stories to tell.

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We had as much fun with his stories as with the experiences he gave us. I warned my children 50 times not to test the limits of noise, patience and education (I feared that an 86-year-old man wouldn't tolerate the energy of my three children for a whole day). At the end of the day, I ended up thinking that at 86 I want to have the same energy and zest for life that this dear gentleman gave us. We visited Laguna, Newport Beach and Balboa Island. And just when we thought the day was over, we went to Dana Point in a Rolls-Royce convertible.

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I can assure you that it was the first time my 3-year-old ninja had been in cars of this category, but he was so delirious that Carlos offered him a vintage red Mercedes (I have no idea what model), and Matias fell asleep happily clinging to the car.

Meanwhile, we're fans of Friday nights at Seal Beach. In the garden by the beach we all go to the movies, Mel included, with blankets and popcorn. We watch the movie offered to us all snuggled up together, as it's getting cooler by the beach, and that day we rest from reading so much. Matias has to run around a bit after the popcorn, but he loves the logistics. And we remind them that, even though they didn't always understand when we laughed during the jokes in the last movie (Oceans Eleven), nobody asked for subtitles.

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At school, the girls have continued to integrate and overcome the challenges they face.

I've been saying around here that this positive way of educating, rewarding attitude, effort and resilience in learning is a way of educating that I appreciate.

One day, a mother teacher corrected me: "It's not a way... it's THE way. A child reacts better to difficulties if they don't focus on the frustration they'll feel if they don't achieve the result. We just have to guide them so that their efforts are productive, and that they feel they have control over their efforts, over their work, and that if they are constant and disciplined, they can do it. Everyone can do it. With more or less work and effort, that should be the focus."

Positivity runs throughout. Matias, sitting at the table, smells a snack from dinner and says in his native accent: "Great job mom!" Today he was trying to open a lid, and repeated a few times, "I got it, I got it!"

I'll take notes and try to remind them.

In the meantime, so much positivity, and Mercedes came home very sad - "Mommy, the boys at my school were super mean to me today."

We were surprised and she explained that - "yesterday one, today four, they just wanted me to leave, and if it wasn't for Abby protecting me, there would have been one more to bother me!" - Mercedes, are you sure it was to annoy you? Maybe they're in love! Their mothers say they love you and want to learn to speak Spanish! Where to?" (I infuriated Cuca, who replied almost tearfully) - "I don't know!!! Away, away! I don't know! They're not in love at all! All they said was that I should go away, and I don't know what else they said, but that I should go away, I'm sure of it" - and what did you do? - "I said no!" - and what about them? - "And they did nothing! They left!" - Okay! All right! If you say no, and that's the end of the conversation, Mercedes, they respected you and that's that! - "There was one who mentioned lunch, but as I said out, I said no, and that was that."

The next day, I meet her friend Abby, and I immediately ask her about the boys and Cuca, and she replies: "You know, boys in our class are quite immature... and I don't know why, everyone is asking Mercedes out!". Mercedes: "See! They're asking me to go outside, Mommy!!!"

I was about to fall apart, but without much success I controlled myself and explained to Mercedes that everything was fine, that it was nothing out there that her friends were suggesting, and that they probably even found it very funny. Abby intervened: "don't worry, I already notified miss Wallace, and she will have a conversation with them about appropriate and unappropriate behavior, even when you are in love, she said to me!" I thanked her for her protection and laughed a bit with Rodrigo on the phone.


In the meantime, Maria was invited to join a Troup of Girlscouts. I agreed, and we went to the first kick-off meeting so that the two of us (mother and daughter) could get to know what was planned for the coming months, at the home of one of her friends. We're also supposed to host one of the meetings... I haven't yet realized exactly how much energy this activity is going to consume, but I'm impressed by what's been prepared. Let's wait.

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Yesterday Mimi also had a party for her school's fundraiser. Skating, disco and snacks all mixed together. Teachers and students all on skates.

The Principal, also on roller skates, who met her on the first day when he felt like running away, recognized us in the midst of the lights and music and came to ask us what we thought of Maria at school. We said "so far, so excellent". He explained that when he saw her on that first day, he personally asked staff members to tell her when they saw her around the school, and that the teachers would give her feedback. He concluded, "everyone watching for her in the school says the same - she's always smiling. And well, she's a doll, but you know she's also a teenager. If she's smiling that's a preatty good sign."

We thanked him, and he said goodbye, "Let me know if you feel we can do anything might help her, ok? Have fun!"

Let's try as hard as we can, now and always!

And if not, we'll always have avocados and passion fruit.


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