West Coast.

#4 Enjoying the ride

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Patrícia Mota
Patrícia Mota

When we landed after having managed to embark on this adventure, and tried to get around the challenges that came our way, worry and breathlessness became a constant. And sometimes it's such a familiar feeling that it turns the enjoyment of the present into a contained mode. It's a purpose to try to reverse this cycle of restraint, I confess. I think routine can help, and so can everything else.

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The brothers continue to say goodbye in the morning as if they were each going on a difficult mission, and it's beautiful and challenging to watch in equal measure.

In addition to the routine that is gradually settling in, we had parent meetings these days where we understood the dynamics, and that the American system encourages autonomous work from an early age, with time allotted for work at home.
I was a little stunned by the amount of information, but very impressed.

We signed a contract with Maria and her tutor. It says: what is expected; the respective penalties; the consequences of accumulating penalties: more than 10 accumulated during the year - and they don't take part in the senior trip, the graduation ceremony or anything fun that comes up at the end of the year.

Penalties are, for example, delays in handing in work, unjustified absences, using a mobile phone in school, etc. It's nothing to do with final grades in tests or assignments, it's basically performance during the course.

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With Mercedes, the teacher has a different dynamic.

Mercedes said that the teacher paid them for their good work. And that a friend owed the teacher "ten bucks" because he left his pencils all over the place and went to the playground without tidying up. I realized at the parents' meeting that it was really true.

There are colored notes of 10$, 20$, 50$ and 100$ that are given to students depending on what they do at school. Once again, nothing to do with test scores or work, but with performance. They participate, arrive on time, keep their room clean, shut up when they have to, work when they have to, get grades. If they arrive late, want to go to the toilet in the middle of class and no longer have a free pass (they get 4 free passes a month to spend on going to the toilet at will), forget to hand in their work on time, etc., they pay.

Of course, I've heard criticism of the "capitalist-style" system when I happily shared what was going on. However, I was used to food-related prizes at my children's school - treats! I find this one more useful and real, and definitely healthier! In Matias' case, the effort is also rewarded. I can tell you that one of his most frequent expressions since entering this school is "Good Job!" and "Ohhh so nice!" I think the rewards are still only verbal. Let's wait.

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At the meeting, some parents in Mercedes' class asked, "What if they run out of money? Will someone lend it to them with interest?" The teacher replied, unperturbed, "They can borrow, of course, but it's rare for them to do so, because their classmates understand that I lend easily. If they run out of money, it's because they're constantly falling short and can't catch up, which means they're not trying to improve at all. Nobody wants a teammate in their team who doesn't work hard or try to make up for poor performance. I expect performance, not results, which will come sooner or later with the constancy and discipline of the work."

I'm not a teacher, but as a mother I think I'm going to start rewarding and making fines pay for poor performance and lack of discipline at home. I'll let you know if I have children in debt.

The teacher says that since she implemented the system, everyone remembers to go to the toilet in the playground and makes an effort to keep everything tidy. Nobody likes to lose money foolishly. At the end of the year there's an event at school where they bring what they no longer play with/use from home to a kind of "flea market", and buy what they want from their classmates with the money they've accumulated. They bring junk to school and buy junk from their classmates. There's a lot of calculating, a lot of change and even a lot of loans. I'd like to be a fly.

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I've always been an advocate of keeping up with my children's studies and work at home.

Some children find it easier than others, some subjects easier than others, but I still support the idea of them being autonomous in their responsibilities.

It can't be like that here just yet.
Estimated homework time: 45 minutes for Mercedes and 1.5 hours for Maria. Taking into account their school-leaving times, this seems quite adequate. If it weren't for the fact that orality takes hold much more quickly than reading and writing. I'm amazed at how much vocabulary my three children have acquired in such a short space of time, but their reading and writing speed still doesn't match the ease with which they converse in English. And in math, for example, another difficulty is having measurements and completely different terminology. And the dots and commas in decimal numbers are exactly the opposite of what we're used to. And now, instead of the corner of our eye, the table in the living room looks like a battlefield where we're always trying, with the help of the translator, to understand exactly what is being asked of us. And there's one of us in the middle of them like an octopus, touching all the fronts and translating here and explaining there. So that they take everything with them the next day.

I have to confess that when I finish my shift of responsibilities at the university and start my shift of homework help, I get twitches in my eyes. We take much longer than expected, of course, but they go to school more confident after we've cleared up their doubts at home about what they didn't understand at school, and with everything done right the next day. But the routine sets in. And then 9pm comes and we're completely knocked out.

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In the midst of this dynamic, I thought it would be a good idea to have a word in the pool at Mercedes' school since I had only managed to sign her up for the waiting list for swimming lessons for 10 year olds. Rodrigo thought it was a good idea too, so I went along to try my luck.

I explained that I was a fan of the sport myself, and that my daughters swam from the age of 6 months until the pandemic hit. And one of the ladies who overheard our conversation said, "I want to see you two swim, please." I found the sudden interest sympathetic, and thought they were going to drive a wedge to get them both into swimming lessons. I took them the next day, thinking they were going to do some test swims to make sure they wouldn't drown, so they could attend classes.

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Coach Shelly recognized me, introduced herself to the sisters, and told them she was going to get them glasses. I thought the test was more serious than originally planned. Then there was a Portuguese mother translating distances in the water, and two wide-eyed sisters with a coach shouting: "great job! but when I say 100 yards keep going until you finish, don't stop!" "100 yards??? What???" I calculated in the translator the correspondence in meters, and gestured that it corresponded to 4 swimming pools (a little more than 90m), and that for the love of the saint they shouldn't stop at the wall. They replied by gesturing that they had understood that part.

In short, they're not taking swimming lessons at the Mercedes school, they've joined the state team in Seal Beach, and they're getting beaten up three times a week in a heated outdoor pool. They leave happy, at least!

In the last class Mercedes didn't need any help translating, she clearly told coach Shelly that she was sorry but "my arms don't work anymore, I really need a break." And coach Shelly agreed and gave her "30 secs of break for Mercedes". A sweetheart!

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When they finish training I also take a deep breath and I've been asked if I have any more swimming children. I've said that I only have ninja children, but if I have to beat them up in the water I'll take them to the pool too. Needless to say, on swimming days it's a real marathon to get everywhere and put everything to bed before 9pm.

In this dynamic, we're always trying to match what's being asked of us, and as we have no terms of comparison, we don't really know what to expect when it's results day. Then one of these days Mercedes showed up looking compromised, and said, "Mommy, I didn't quite understand what happened to me today", and of course, with the mind of a worried mother and restrained relaxation, she goes into suspense mode... and she shows the most coveted prize of the whole class with an accompanying note from the teacher. The mother, of course, breaks down.

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What don't you understand Mercedes?" and she said, "I've only just arrived, I'm the slowest of all to finish my work, sometimes they don't understand me and I don't understand them, especially if what they want to say to me is written down? How did I win the RAH Mcgaugh award? Do you think it was a mistake?"

I explained further, showed her her name on the paper, and she confirmed that she had read it several times before daring to stuff the plastic prize worth gold into her backpack, but she also got emotional when I explained exactly what the "capitalist teacher" who had been all over her had written.

We came home trying to let our guard down, and Maria arrived an hour later. "Daddy, I didn't understand my grades that I got today. Here the percentages go up to what? I thought 100% was the maximum, but I got a few 100s, maybe I didn't get good marks like before..." We went to investigate, apparently you can exceed it if you do everything right and complete the bonuses. "Maria, did you do any bonuses?" "Oh, there was a section that said bonuses, and I did everything that came up, I thought bonuses were a good thing." She got almost everything A+, and her mother broke down again. I think Dad did too, but he disguises it better.

We went to pick up Matias and Miss Megan, who had suggested building a "Safe spot" treasure, praised our work and said that Matias not only explained in detail who each of his treasures were, but that during the day he asked to be left alone to enjoy the book we had made for him and to say the names of each one that appeared in the photos. And his mother, poor thing, looked like a real carpenter by this time.

All on the same day!

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The following days we had an ice-cream party at Cuca's school, at 6pm after dinner, with the teachers serving ice cream and the children playing in the school playground. We bumped into one of the couples we had already met at Jenny's daughter's party, who asked us to talk about this experience of living in another country with the whole family, as they are preparing to do exactly the same thing in Spain in two years' time.

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We recommend Valencia, of course. And we chatted for quite a while.

Then the mother, who is an English and Drama teacher, asked if we needed any books, and I explained that we have everything provided by the school, except the 40 books for Mercedes to read (1 book a week for 40 weeks - the tasks associated with reading books are for another post). She told us to come over the next day, and we went to her children's and students' personal library to get what they felt like bringing for my children.

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This detachment from physical possessions and the generosity of strangers who can empathize to the point of understanding what we need and making themselves available to help in various ways is the most beautiful thing we have learned so far.

We will certainly return home richer, although probably decapitalized.

At the weekend we decided to go to the beach, Bolsa Chica, (a good beach with live music all day) and in addition to what they offered us in the community, Colin and Jenny (supposedly my boss, but who increasingly seems like a dear friend), had just equipped us with shade and other equipment, and lent us a "parking pass" for free access to any park or beach. After all, nobody likes to see people spending money foolishly.

And so we were ready to spend a wonderful day at the beach. Bolsa Chica is good, but the girls loved Huntington Beach for its surfer atmosphere and energy that smells a little like home.

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When Friday comes around, we really change our tune, and it feels like we're actually on vacation on our days off. This weekend we went to the Paul Getty Museum, and it was nice to return almost 25 years later and realize that it is just as beautiful, with incredible views and full of magnificent works. In the European wing alone, in the same room there were: Monet, Manet, Degas, Van Gaugh, Goya and Sorolla. Completely free so that art and knowledge can reach everyone.

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And the next day we went back to Lego. Whenever Matias found the park's leaflets and maps somewhere, he made every effort, in several languages, to explain that he wanted to go back to that park, that he really likes Legos. And as luck would have it, the ticket we bought had entry for two different days. With access to the aquarium and aquapark, all by Lego. It was crazy.

The only downside is that Matias, who is becoming fluent in all three languages, clearly says that he wants to come to this park every day. Everyday, ok?

In the middle of these adventures, we managed to find a second- or fifth-hand bicycle dealer (who cares?!), and we were able to buy enough beach cruisers to get us all around Seal Beach.

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I hope that we'll be able to do a lot of routes on these, and that the restraint will give way to the laid-back and easygoing spirit that characterizes the Californians so well.

I promise to try and learn this from them.

Tomorrow Cuca has her first math test. She's sitting next to me with her teeth bared doing her exercises.

I'm trying to relax my jaw and focus on what Rodrigo has been telling me and I've been promising myself: enjoying the ride.

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