JOURNEY: Education for Life

“Our education and schools should not be so overly focused on learning. It is the wrong aspiration for our students, despite centuries of academic tradition. If we were to focus instead on helping all students be the very best and most capable people they can be, our kids’ education and our society would be light-years ahead of where they are now.”
The Goal of Education Is Becoming” By Marc Prensky


As an advocate for education, I would have told you a year ago that I believed and lived this. For more than a decade I have invested in the educational world of our girls. I have served in most capacities offered to parents. I have mentored students in and out of school settings. I have advocated for teachers and administrators, and partnered in seeing that every child has the opportunity to be who they were created to be.

Before we even had children, my husband and I chose a home in a public school district that we believed could provide challenge and opportunities for the family we hoped to build. When it came time for our children to go to kindergarten, the neighborhood elementary was a second home. For the next 9 years, I invested and partnered to make school a home away from home. It was not always perfect or easy, but that’s life. We faced challenges and aimed for success.

As we transitioned to middle school, new ideas and faces and expectations were part of the journey. Our girls have both been nurtured in a smaller learning community that our district offers. The leadership and teachers in that program were a great fit for us. Even with normal middle school woes, both girls found avenues for individual growth. Little thought and planning went into educational steps in this season. For high school, we followed the natural feeder pattern of our district to a campus with more than 2,000 students.

Our oldest daughter is a passionate, loving thinker. She is an old soul in the best possible way. She loves caring for those who need help. Very few of her life-giving passions are held in sacred regard to the majority of teenagers. She could care less about brand names or social gatherings. She is more likely to be found with a 2 year-old in her arms or advocating for legislative reform. She is well read, interested in global issues and can write a better positional paper than most college students. At 16.

While these traits make remarkable high-level college scholars, they can make for lonely weekends and lunch conversations at most American high schools. Add to this challenge the pervasive diseases of depression and anxiety and you set up a situational disaster. For most teens, finding your place and your people is the goal of independence. Under the best of conditions, this season is hard. When you add a constant internal and worldly message that you “don’t fit” to a mental health condition, you set up a losing situation. That is where we found ourselves at the beginning of sophomore year.

The exterior was precious. A beautiful, 5’9″ blond, smart, talented young woman. But being a well spoken, determined, academic powerhouse is no match for paralyzing anxiety attacks coupled with the fear of crowds in the hallways of a huge high school. Even classes that were once her favorites like choir and debate proved to be unmanageable in the face of normal teenage immaturity and insensitivity towards anyone that is slightly different.

As someone who has walked the road of mental health challenges, I know firsthand that the brain is a brilliant and wicked machine. It can propel and destroy with equal power. And there is no quick fix. Time and therapy and medication and space and skills cannot return you to “normal” in 3.2 days. It is not a virus, that 24 hours post symptoms, will allow you to take your AP World History test.

When the need to change educational environments was clear, we frantically began searching for alternatives. We were 6 weeks into 10th grade and the district that had always worked for our family could no longer meet her needs. We needed an immediate path forward and the desperation and hopelessness was heavy. Things reached such a point of panic that our daily goal was functionality. No longer could we think about next year or college or beyond. Just weeks before, we had been on the Duke campus with a wide-eyed dream of a big, wonderful collegiate future. We were now in crisis management, with the enormous goal of choosing to live – which in moments seemed impossible.

We read. We studied all of the options we could find. We chose an online school that looked good. We talked to their team and we felt that Laurel Springs School would give us the most space to grow and take care of her health. At the same time, she would not have to sacrifice academics. We were committed to taking nothing away in her dreams for the future. We needed her to know that we had her back no matter the road ahead.

The decision was made to start 10th grade over. It was November before she was stable enough to really concentrate on school. The transition was not without bumps in the road. Self-regulation and time management were key. No longer did a tardy bell designate the start of the school day. More often, it was a not-so-gentle reminder to choose to live fully. With each passing day, we found a school rhythm and were able to engage in things that gave her life and purpose.

As a 6th grader, Anna Jane co-founded a charity called Dolls For All. Because of our choice to do online school, she was able to devote more of her time to developing relationships in the community and beyond. What before had been a fun Christmas-time focus, became a year round organization of hope dealing – both for the children that received dolls and for the one working to make it possible. Helping others became the pivot point on days when we were headed down dark paths. She added other mentoring opportunities with local children to her day-to-day schedule, as well. Being on a completely self-directed schedule allowed for flexibility in every area.

For so many reasons, the transition to Laurel Springs has changed our family. In November…and beyond…I was terrified. Was this the right decision? Can we find happiness? Is she going to be challenged? Yes! Yes! Yes!

img_2221.jpgWe have just completed the End Of Year Celebration with Laurel Springs in Orlando. Once a year, students from around the world come together to celebrate high school milestones like National Honor Society induction, graduation and prom. This year, we had a family field trip day at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. All of these things were wonderful, but the highlight was meeting the team of administrators and dedicated staff that make Laurel Springs a success. I cannot express how impressed I was with the passion and love for learning they displayed. But the BEST part was the desire to see every student meet their personal potential.

Every time we met a new face, they asked us (and most importantly, Anna Jane) why she chose LSS. They inquired about her as a person. They want HER to succeed. You knew that from every interaction. If the goal of education is ‘becoming,’ LSS is exactly what #TeamHilbrich needed. Education is not a one-size-fits-all system. I had no idea just how ill-fitting traditional large brick and mortar high school was for our daughter.

But, you should see her now. No, things are not perfect. But she is thriving and dreaming. She is more confident. She knows that she has a place of belonging. She feels successful. As a mom, that is the greatest joy. To know that I have helped my child ‘become’, is to know that I have been her partner in education and life.

If your child is not thriving in traditional school, please don’t assume that you just have to push through. Explore your options. Believe that there are options! I resisted this change for so long. I joked about how I would never have my kids home with me all day for school. I wrongly assumed that alternative educational options meant sacrificing academics and rigor. I was wrong. Education is so much more than math and reading. We owe it to our kids to explore and invest in education the way we do their sports teams and our own job searches. May we help our kids be the best people they can be, because that is the heart of great education.


The Hands I Hold

I have been blessed with many mentors in my life. While I won’t go into each relationship, I will tell you about the first teenager that poured into me. Bop, or Elizabeth Jones, was my first and youngest babysitter. She also happened to be one of my mom’s youth group kids. Those kids were almost all of the teenage influences I had when I was little. Bop would come over everyday she could and take me where ever I wanted to go.rPIqZ6lxRiut69Q7u1FLkQ
She loved me probably more than I loved her, which is a lot harder than it sounds. She would take me to her house and we would watch movies, specifically Up!, which quickly became one of my favorites. She would indulge in my crazy love for weird TV characters and did all the crafts with me.
I cannot explain how much her love for me made me comfortable around other people. Even though she moved away before middle school, I still managed to make it to Austin to spend my thirteenth birthday with her. We watched movies and did crafts and even though I was growing up, I felt like the little girl.
Now I am the teenager. While I still think I’m seven, I can now drive my homeschool friends around for lunch. I met Madeline when I was 9, a wee little thing. Everyone thought I was completely grown up because I was the oldest kid in our group. She is now 12 and one of the coolest people I know. I have happily taken on the role of her adopted older sister.IMG_0537
I love the person she is and the person I get to see her become. While she may think I hung the moon, she is one of the most independent and fierce kids I know. I may or may not have told her and my other homeschool buddy that they will be the next generation of everything I am establishing in Houston when I go to college. She is my favorite sixth grader I can’t believe I have known her for almost seven years.
It is one of the coolest things to see how just giving a child your attention can make them feel so confident and brave and honest. She is the kid who made me love kids over the age of 5, and getting to grow up ahead of her has given me the ability to give her all of the secrets that she needs to know. It’s pretty cool to see how I can make her feel special – the way that I felt when Bop was with me.

Reaching Up and Reaching Down

“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living—if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.” — Denzel Washington

I owe all that I am to those that took time to invest in my heart, my pain, my dreams and my failures. To the countless women and men that stretched and pushed and aided me in dreaming a bigger dream, I am indebted. This week’s topic on Double Vision is dedicated to the many brave, wise guides that have invested hours in coffee shops and dorm rooms and church offices. To those who have committed to life learning – from those that were ahead of them in this journey and those that were following in their shadows. To the mentors and mentees that have blessed my life and story, this is for you.

IMG_4285I was still in high school when I first realized that someone was looking up to me. While I understood little of this responsibility, I had already seen the difference that adults and older youth were making in my life. I watched and listened. I asked questions. I was a student of life. From being the beneficiary of wisdom and guidance, I developed an appreciation for the mentoring relationship at an early age.

No doubt, this played heavily into my call to be imbedded in a helping profession. I cannot imagine anyone feeling compelled to lead in the Church today out of their own strength. The best pastors, doctors, therapist and teachers I know have one thing in common. When asked why they do what they do, the answer usually includes a hat tip to someone who showed them how do be a servant. The most attentive friends have had a good friend. The most healthy marriages have a model of real strength to learn from. We need to learn from each other.

From the time that I could set my own schedule, I have prioritized reaching up and reaching down. I still need mentors. I sit regularly with friends that I admire their leadership and teaching and writing skills. I learn from the way that they prioritize and love and serve. I use these relationship to fill my soul and push me to believe things about myself that I can’t always see. This is what I mean by reaching up. They help me become who God created me to be.

In equally important ways, I intentionally reach down. It is a bad week when I don’t have at least one coffee date or a call or text exchange with someone who I know has been placed in my life to encourage their growth. Some of these are formal, sought out, mentoring relationships. Others have been connected in friendship and a shared love for a topic and have grown to mutually depend on each other for maturity. For instance, I came to know a dear friend as a co-conspirator in all things mommy-world, but in reality she has mentored my dependence on prayer in ways that I didn’t know to ask for. I would not be the pastor or teacher that I am today without her leadership.

There is one special aspect of mentoring that I cannot shake. Try as I might, I just can’t let go of my passion for watching young women dream. There is a miraculous thing that happens when a woman is freed to be who she was created to be. This miracle cannot be duplicated. And yet, we live in a world that is flooded with messages of defeat and shame belittling. The time and the space of living in that calling has changed over the years. The number of hours that I have logged at Starbucks are too many to count. The conversations on wholeness and soul tending are innumerable. The meals that I have shared while lamenting lost love or broken dreams are endless.

I have been called to pull hope from the bottom of a Xanax bottle. I have prayed peace over severed relationships as I drove away from heartbreaking lunch tales. I have spent hours driving circles in my neighborhood so I could get in five more minutes of friendship as I was driving home. These moments are a priority for me because they have been, and will always be, some of the greatest joys and relationships of my life.

When I began investing in mentoring, there was a hidden gift that would take years to uncover. It is especially true for those women that I knew as teenagers. As I began to share my life and my family, many saw the value that reaching up and down provides. Often, I would invest in a young woman and she would get to know my daughters. As they grew, both AJ and Ally have seen that mom has friends of all ages and interests. Some are older. Some have kids. Some really love to play with them. And more often than not, these precious relationships have built a legacy of continued reaching.

As I reached into a young woman’s life, she began reaching into my daughter’s. With this pattern of legacy established, I am now seeing the next generation of reaching! Often I find myself a bit misty eyed when I see my girls value this same connectedness to the children of those that reached down to them. This ongoing, gift giving wonder of love provides the greatest of life’s cheerleaders. I can’t wait for you to hear about how AJ has seen mentoring lived and is now living it out in her own life. Don’t miss Thursday’s post


I Don’t Want to be a Teenager Today, Either

IMG_1078So, I am a teenager in the digital age. The technology alone is terrifying. Technology has a way to influence your perspectives and take control of your opinions. As my mom said, she would never try to be a teenager today. Sadly I had no choice in the matter, but I would agree that I also do not want to be a teenager at the moment.

1. What’s the hardest thing about being a teenager in 2018?
This one is not that hard because it has one of the most obvious answers: technology and lack of privacy. There is nothing that happens that the rest of the world doesn’t already know about. When I left Creek, I completely stopped posting on all social media accounts because I didn’t want to hear what other people had to say about my decision. This has changed not only the way I look at social media, but also how I look at the perspective in which I see other people’s lives through social media. There is hardly any truth behind each picture posted. What you don’t see is the fight that girl had with her mom over her outfit or the sunburn that came after posing for that many bikini selfies. It’s hard to look past what you see on social media and online, but if you focus on the facade people put up online, then you spend your life comparing yourself to someone that isn’t real.

2. If you could tell adults one insight to your generation, what would it be?
That my generation is very good at hiding things, even when a parent thinks they already know. Whether it be their relationship status or their emotional stability, adults can be easily fooled by what social media is telling them. So many people are convinced that a person’s Instagram is their real life. In reality, it is the life they want others to see. This can be especially hard when people are posting online about their personal struggles because you can never tell what is real and what is for attention. Often, the struggles teens face come from their need to project an image of themselves. You cannot understand anything about a teen by looking at their posts or reading their Facebook status.

3. What’s your relationship to your cell phone?
I actually have a really good and healthy relationship with my phone now, but it has been a really hard thing to learn. It’s so easy to get caught up in your view of other people on social media and that can kill all mental stability. I used to scroll through Instagram feeling left out from stuff and it would kill my self confidence. I keep my phone out of my room after my shower at night and I only get up to look at it once I am actually awake and ready to face the day. I have also purposefully left my phone behind at my house a lot because I know I will enjoy things more without the distraction. In the last few months, I have really struggled with personal phone boundaries, but it was something I had to learn in order to be successful.

4. Is there such thing a “normal” teenager?
I mean, I guess there is the image of the “normal” teen that movies paint a picture of, but there is not one teenager in high school that lives the teen life that everyone sees in a movie. High school is a hard and scary time even if you enjoy being a teenager and so many kids try to live up to what the TV shows them that they forget to have fun. It’s very easy to get caught up in expectations, especially as a teenager.

5. Why do so many parents and kids have such a hard time in these years?
There is such a gap between what parents see and what is actually happening. Parents are also so convinced that they understand what teens are going through but no generation before us has ever grown up with the technology we have. A fight over a boy is no longer just a school thing, people take their issues to social media and have to go home just to see what they were trying to escape. There is no separation between school, drama, news, and family life. That is something that makes it very difficult to feel confident in your decisions and daily actions. Without that confidence, teens turn to different coping mechanism that force distance between parents and their kids.

I Don’t Want to Be a Teenager Today

Let’s just deal in facts for a moment. Want an eye-opening experience? Read the article, “The Truth About Trouble Teens” By Amy Morin, LCSW. Here a just a few of the hard facts:

In The Next 24 Hours in the United States:
1,439 Teens will attempt suicide.
2,795 Teenage girls will become pregnant.
15,006 Teens will use drugs for the first time.
3,506 Teens will run away.
2 adolescents will be murdered.

Every 4 minutes a youth is arrested for an alcohol-related crime.

Every 7 minutes a youth is arrested for a drug crime.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24.

More teens and young adults die from suicide than from heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, pneumonia, influenza, cancer, and lung disease combined.

I would never go back to this season of life. YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!

Sure, some of the problems are not new. Of course, we had plenty of hard things when I was a teen in the 90’s. But there is one thing that is new. In my day, the world did not have immediate access to me and I did not have immediate access to the world.

Just this morning, I was having the daily drive-to-school conversation with my youngest. I discovered something in my pre-coffee news scrolling that I wanted her to know about before she arrived at school. I braced my word choice and tone for the least amount of stress induction and I began, “I want you to know…” She stopped me three sentences in with, “Oh, I already knew that, Mom.” She read the news herself. She saw the Instagram comments. She knew more than I did. I did not get to prepare her heart. I did not get to shape her first knowledge. That is the world we live in.

There will be those that tell me that my 7th grader should not have Instagram. Sure. That is the choice we have made as a family. She does not Tweet. She does not have Facebook. She doesn’t even have Musically or Snapchat. But the truth is that she would have seen this piece of information when she logged on to her school issued laptop during her first period class. Our kids have the world at their phone, laptop and iPad fueled fingertips. This is our reality.

And with this reality, comes the immense responsibility as parents to be aware, informed and willing to partner with our kids as they learn to navigate the challenges of immediate information access and social media nonsense. Most importantly for our family, managing the impact that these societal changes make on stress and expectations is paramount.  Sure, I am glad that my teenage experiences are not recorded for all to see in words and pictures, but recognizing the psychological impact of this reality has shaped our family choices.

Here are a few of the things we have done to shape our household culture:

  • We actively monitor all downloads, texts and social media. We over-manage in the middle school years, even using outside parent monitoring software to make sure we are not missing anything.
  • We read through our kid’s feeds and talk about who they are following and how they are interacting.
  • We major on the majors. What bands our kids are listening to or what sitcom they are checking out matters less to us than the friends they spend the night with and the activities they want to participate in. If their favorite music uses colorful language, I assure you they hear worse in the junior high hallway today. Side note, if they like BAD music, that is an entirely different conversation.
  • We play games together. One of the hardest things for our kids today is to look people in the eye and have a conversation. Enjoying a spirited game of dominoes or cards or Ticket to Ride is a non-threatening way to have conversation. Add in some smack talk or slightly off-color humor for a quality blushing good time.
  • And the inverse is true – we go on car rides. Have a hard topic to talk about? Take your kid for ice cream or coffee. They don’t have to look you in the eye and they are a captive audience.
  • Talk about your teen’s life, not about the life that you want your teen to have. Ask about the things they like. Talk about the things they are reading about. Even if your kiddo hates reading, they are reading something. Why else are they staring at their phone?
  • Have designated phone free zones. These may be different for different kids. One of ours no longer takes her phone in her room. The other is regularly asked to deposit hers with me for restriction. Grounding one of my girls from the phone would be a non-issue for her. Fimg_4665.jpegor the other one, taking away the phone is like cutting off a limb.

I love teenagers. I know. I know. I would MUCH rather have a 15 year-old in my home than a 4 year-old. I’m so weird. But I don’t always enjoy teenage issues, mainly because they make me oh, so aware than my girls are not babies. They are becoming adults and with that comes adult conversations and challenges and disagreements. I cannot control them or make choices for them. They are independent and bold and brave and amazing.

Because I want you to get to see just how great this generation is, I am tee-ing up some fun for Thursday’s post. So AJ, take us into the mind of today’s teenager with:

  1. What’s the hardest thing about being a teenager in 2018?
  2. If you could tell adults one insight to your generation, what would it be?
  3. What’s your relationship to your cell phone?
  4. Is there such thing a “normal” teenager?
  5. Why do so many parents and kids have such a hard time in these years?

Double Vision: A Mother/Daughter Experiment

“I have this idea.”

When I say things like this in my household, my family members cringe. They don’t know whether to be excited and look forward to a trip or run to hide in the closet. Usually, both are appropriate responses. Fortunately, for my oldest, we are wired in similar ways. She safely assumes that I am not suggesting a physically active escapade or sweat inducing activity. While the others may be disappointed, we have an understanding that all good things involve deep thought, good conversation and a frothy caffeinated beverage.

The idea that sparked this post is one that has been brewing in my mind since I interviewed her for a blog post in the fall. One of the joys of online school is that we have many hours to discuss news, current events, challenges and important decisions. Keeping the demanding schedule of a high school student in brick and mortar school leaves little time for stress free parental interaction. Our rhythm is very different. Even as I write, we are sitting side-by-side at the kitchen counter while she is completing an assignment for English. This was preceded with a shared cup of coffee. Yesterday’s schedule included a lunch time conversation of goal setting for her non-profit.

For most parents of teenagers, this is foreign territory. But for us, this is a blessed normal. What once was the stress producing hardship of daily activity has become an opportunity to grow and stretch and thrive together. School is demanding. Really, I think the work that she is completing now is challenging her more than ever before. Managing this schedule is only for a driven and independent learner – there is NO WAY I could make her do this. But the gifts of sacred and shared discipline are precious. We are both so aware of the climate of our world, as it relates to the inability to have open conversation. As we read and challenge norms, we have both come to places of frustration and irritation. But as we talk, even when we really disagree, I have been challenged to listen well and sit with discomfort in new ideas.

That is our goal with this blog experiment. Together, we are are going to tackle a new idea, question, thought or conversation each week. We will post two separate written expressions – one through AJ’s eyes and one through mine. Sometimes, they may have a similar voice. Other times, they will be very different. That’s the goal!

We will post on Mondays and Thursdays. For those that regularly follow The View From the Bathroom Floor, you will notice that the layout of the blog has changed a bit. With this new addition, there is now a navigational menu at the top of the home page. Our mom/daughter blog will be called Double Vision. Liturgical Faith has a separate page and all of those blogs are now in one space for easy reading. The most current post will always be at the top of the page.

As I have been given the gift of listening to her thoughts, I am more inspired than ever that we need to have better conversations. I can assure you that her gift for writing and humor and insight will excite you. She is brilliant and sensitive and creative and wise. I am honored to be her mom and learn from her. We have topics picked for the next 6-8 weeks, but if you find yourself engaging in this experiment, send us a note with your thoughts on things that interest you. We would love to create a space where parents, children, grandchildren, cousins and friends can all discuss and interact on the most talked about issues of the day. Let’s learn from each other.

Here goes nothing!