Monday, August 31, 2009

Review: Bending Toward the Sun

Ever wonder what Anne Frank's story would have been like if she survived the holocaust?

I recently read Bending Toward the Sun: A Mother and Daughter Memoir, which starts out with the true story of a young girl who hid in an attic with her family during WWII. It was a gripping but hard story to read.

I kept seeing myself in her mother's shoes. I stress over things like getting Esmé educated and keeping her entertained. How would I survive watching my children fade away from lack of food and stimulation day after day, no end in sight? How would I handle waking up to find my littlest one dead from malnutrition? How would I handle being utterly helpless to change or fix anything for my kids? And when I finally have no more energy to go on, how would I let go of life and leave my little girls behind?

Unlike most holocaust stories, this book doesn't end there. After she tells the story of the girl in the attic - her mother, author Leslie Gilbert-Lurie tells her own. And her daughter's. And you see how the trauma in one generation passes down to the next, even with the best of intentions. Forged into the relay baton, however, is also a spirit of survival and an incredible love.

This is a bitter and sweet story. It reads easily and well. And it makes me think of all "our" children still undergoing trauma today. In Mozambique, for instance, the civil war has been over for several years, yet an entire generation is permanently affected and will pass on that effect to their children.

Leslie's story needs to be told. Bending Toward the Sun is available for sale tomorrow, September 1st. Find out more about the book at And check out the interview with Leslie on the Today Show on September 1st (or 2nd?).

Thanks to FSB Associates for the review copy of this book.

Here are some tips straight from Leslie Gilbert-Lurie:

10 Ways to Minimize Your Child's Stress
By Leslie Gilbert-Lurie
Author of Bending Toward the Sun: A Mother and Daughter Memoir

In many respects my children are lucky. They have traveled extensively, attended outstanding schools, and have had the occasion to pursue talents and passing fancies. My childhood was not so privileged. I never imagined having had many of these opportunities. And yet I often find myself feeling sad for them and their peers. They feel a stress I also could never have imagined.

As a child, I generally had nothing better to do after school than play with my neighbors. Today, many of the children I know are too busy after school with lessons and sports to idly play.

When I was growing up, my family sat down together for dinner almost every night. Today, even when my children's schedules don't conflict, my husband or I are likely to be stuck in traffic, arriving too late for a family dinner.

When I was in school, many of my classmates tried out a new sport by joining a high school team. Today, children often need to have been playing sports like baseball, basketball or tennis for years to make the team.

Needless to say, we live in trying times, and many of the buffers my generation had no longer exist. Our children not only have less time for fun or family, but they know that their world is polluted, over-populated, and at risk of terrorism. They also have a sense that if they don't try their hardest, determined young people in developing countries around the world are prepared to take their spots in colleges and the working world.

My mind has turned toward thinking about stress in children after my recent experience in writing Bending Toward the Sun, a mother-daughter memoir that will be released September 1. I became more aware of the ways in which my mother's experiences in the Holocaust influenced the stress I experience, and the ways in which I contribute unnecessary anxiety to my own children. I also realize that even if we could wave magic wands and eliminate all stress from our children's lives, we might be ill-advised to do so. The lessons children learn in coping with small stresses make them more resilient; better able to cope with more complex problems later on. But the high levels of stress which many of them experience today deprives them of much of the joy of growing up, and, I fear, will render them ill-prepared to function optimally as adults. Some of this excessive stress, I believe, can be minimized. Toward a more "stress less" existence for our children -- and hopefully I will be the first to be taking my own advice -- here are a few of my suggestions:
  1. Accept square pegs. Parents are constantly told what is "normal." They, and their children, are made to feel inadequate when the child does not act like every other kid, or reach milestones at a preordained time. Unless it is clear that a serious problem exists, encourage your child's unique interests, approaches to learning, or ideas about socializing. As adults, we rarely consider it a compliment to be called average, so why should we want our children to be?
  2. Encourage children to participate in physical activity. Physical activity reduces stress and helps maintain a healthy balance between mind and body.
  3. Help children to find balance in their lives. While academic and/or athletic successes are obviously important, these successes must coincide with other factors in order for children to remain healthy and stress levels to be kept in check. Children need time for nutritious meals, a good night's sleep, and fun. Families should set aside time, when possible, to have fun together as well. While not always possible, it's helpful when parents can model balance in their own lives.
  4. Allow children to be bored. Children need free time to discover where their own imaginations will lead them. Educators, parents, and coaches should refrain from scheduling every minute in their day.
  5. Help children arrive on time. Children are often reprimanded publicly when they arrive late to school or other activities, adding an unnecessary layer of stress.
  6. Expose children to spiritual activities. In an uncertain world, rituals and traditions reduce stress. Children are comforted by sensing that there are forces in the universe greater than themselves.
  7. Introduce children to nature and the outdoors. Exposing children to plants, animals, and the stars gives them a sense of wonder. Teaching them to garden and be in nature gives them confidence that they can take care of themselves.
  8. Teach children deep breathing and ways to calm themselves. Meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises help children, as well as the rest of us, to relieve stress.
  9. Encourage children to have a hobby. Stress is reduced when children get to pursue interests and hobbies about which they are passionate, particularly when competition is not the primary goal.
  10. When a parent experiences stress due to a traumatic past, expose children to healthy relationships and activities away from the family. As I discuss in Bending Toward the Sun, children can inherit stress from their parents. The impact of my mother's traumatic childhood was transmitted to me, and years later, to my young daughter. Parents can help mitigate the stresses in their own lives from being transmitted to their children by exposing their children to healthy relationships, activities, and points of view outside of the family.
Also, I would recommend that a parent attempt to answer a child's questions regarding the parent's traumatic past. Children imagine the worst when a parent refuses to discuss a painful past, or seems evasive in answering questions. Parents do not need to reveal more than the child asks about, however, or is mature enough to understand.

My long journey in writing Bending Toward the Sun has convinced me that not all stress can, or should, be avoided. But let's do what we can to raise not only high-achieving children, but healthy and happy ones as well.

©2009 Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, author of Bending Toward the Sun: A Mother and Daughter Memoir


Nicole {tired, need sleep} said...

What a great post - I'm very intrigued by this book... think I'll have to read it, once I get my nerve up. I understand what you mean about it being a good read, but difficult too. And I so appreciated the tips for lowering stress for children. Thank you!

ShEiLa said...

Bending Toward the Sun. I am going to put that one on my list... I need to finish Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus (my husband and I are reading that one together) and I need to start and finish The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks (I love his books) but your review has my attention for sure.

My oldest daughter Celestial got to attend a holocaust seminar in Las Vegas when she was in Jr.High and she met an actual survivor. The impression he left on her will last forever.


Ticia said...

That does look interesting, I'll have to put it on my list, though it may be a while.
I totally agree on the idea of not overscheduling and letting your kids be bored.

Ticia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pamela said...

I don't want to read it. Makes me sick to think about it.