By Renée Gotcher
Lately (and more often than I’d like to admit), I have found myself in the midst of trying to gracefully navigate the twists and turns of a homeschool day gone awry, until I finally reach a breaking point where I am asking myself: “Where’s the reboot button?”
Seriously. Can I just start this day over again? Please?
I don’t think I’m alone. In fact, a few weeks ago my homeschooling sister-in-law and I posted Facebook status updates that said essentially the same thing — “Can I just reboot this day?” — less than an hour apart from each other and without having read the other’s post first. It was uncanny: We were having the same roller-coaster day and feeling exactly the same way — hundreds of miles across the country from each other. Although we have kids of different ages and were facing completely different challenges, the feeling was mutual. How do I get this day back on track? Or can I just “erase” it and start over?
Technology has spoiled us indeed. Where did we ever get the idea that fixing something “worth fixing” was easy? When did we start thinking that solutions to the difficulties we face on a daily basis should be right at our fingertips?
I think it started with the backspace button. I learned to type in middle school on an ancient typewriter with no “auto-fix” functions of any kind. It was industrial gray, it was heavy, and it carried the weight of perfection in print: You got what you typed, period. If you made a mistake, you ripped that sheet of typing paper out of the machine and started over… and over, and over, until it was perfect, creating a paper trail of all your previous mistakes. This was not an easy process. In short order, I learned that it would be much easier to learn how to type without making mistakes in the first place.
Then came the typewriter with the white correction tape ribbon: At least you could go back and “erase” the error and retype it correctly, on the same sheet of paper. A backspace button! It was clunky, but it was a heck of a lot easier than starting over entirely.
The true revolution in producing error-free output started with the digital typewriter: You could type a few pages of data into the “memory” of the machine and review it on a tiny green screen before the final product was printed out. A backspace button with no correction tape necessary! I remember borrowing a dorm mate’s digital typewriter in college to write some term papers. As long as my paper didn’t exceed the typewriter’s memory, I was as good as gold to make sure my paper was perfect before it ever hit a physical page. So much time saved!
Of course, the personal computer followed not far behind, and the way we “fix” our mistakes would never be the same. A backspace button and a reboot button… errors could be deleted instantly and with the push of a button, you could even “start over” with a clean slate whenever the signals got so crossed that your computer froze up.
Things have definitely changed in the digital age. In fact, my computer-savvy daughters can hardly find the time to properly erase a mistake written in pencil on paper well enough that the correction is legible. I get blank stares that say it all: “Why do I need to do this? Wouldn’t it just be easier if I typed this up on my netbook?”
And the truth is, yes — it would be! But there’s a reason we’re teaching our children to write legibly on paper and correct their own mistakes by hand, right? It’s part of the learning process!
So why do we feel like we want an easy way out when we’re struggling on the other side of the table?
I’m sure by now you’ve heard some form of this popular quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort…” The paraphrase that I grew up hearing was, “Nothing in the world is worth having unless it’s worth working for.”
Although I completely agree with this concept, I find that I’m very impatient when dealing with challenges on a day-to-day basis. In the midst of perceived failure, I look up at the ceiling and ask God where the reboot button is. Can I just erase today’s mistakes and start over? And if not, then can I at least wake up tomorrow knowing what I need to fix so that I don’t find myself here again?
After several more of these days, I recently realized that although there’s no reboot button, we could clean the slate another way: By taking a “time out” to address the roots of the problems. It became clear to me that some of the “rocks” in our bumpy road could be removed if we stopped and took the time to address them properly — and not try to move forward until they were handled. Although there was no easy reboot button, there was an opportunity to clear our path of a few nagging obstacles if we took the time to do it right and do it well.
One of the impediments that was creating daily drama was disorganization. Almost daily, our disorganization led to frustration over lost paperwork, projects taking too much time, overdue library books, sisters fighting over school supplies because, once again, theirs were missing from their personal cubby box, etc. For me, the most defeating part of the mess was the mental “cloudiness” that results from trying to be productive under the shadow of too much clutter — I just couldn’t think straight anymore. We simply had to stop in our tracks and clear the road of these obstacles before we could take another step forward.
So we took several days — at first on the weekend, but then a couple on “school” time — to address the dysfunctional areas in our house and come up with solutions that would work for everyone and most important, be maintainable. It wasn’t easy, and it took a lot more time than I thought it would, but I realized that we really needed to invest the time to get it right. There are a few things left that we need to tackle that are lower on my priority list, but thanks to the work we did, we’re off to a refreshing “restart” that is making a huge difference in our days.
Then I realized: This reorganization exercise was just as essential to their education as it was to my peace of mind! Why did I feel guilty taking “time out” from school work to fix our mistakes? This is life: This is a lesson best learned now.
It’s also a lesson best learned together. There was a point where I thought: I will just fix this all myself. It would be faster and I can do it my way. But I realized that part of why we’d gotten to this point is that the systems I had tried to create before weren’t working for my girls. So we talked through all the trouble spots together and came up with solutions that made sense for everyone. Not only did we all learn in the process, but the girls were more excited about the results, knowing that their work and ideas had made a big difference in our home.
I’m sure there will be more “reboot” days ahead. Homeschooling is a journey down an unpredictable road, and it seems like every time we tackle one challenge, another one appears around the bend. But as a homeschooling mom, I’m realizing that these life lessons are just as important — if not more — to my family’s education than the rest of our school subjects.
Even though we live in a digital world where our children will probably be using voice-enabled devices to do everything for them in the future, I still expect my girls to learn to write legibly on paper, learn to recognize their mistakes and take the time to correct them properly, and create a visible record of the progress in their work. I want them to see how far they’ve come, learn from past mistakes, and build upon each “victory” along the way. Because isn’t that just like life?
How many times have you longed for a reboot button? How do you address your most challenging days as a homeschooling family?
— Renée Gotcher is an entrepreneur, writer, wife & home-educating mother of three daughters: Audrey, Claire and Elise. Renée was homeschooled during her last two years of high school and started homeschooling in 2010. She and her family currently reside in Castle Rock, Colorado.