I went to graduate school to become a therapist and read about and came across many sad and disturbing stories. I've read other memoirs along these lines as well, but this is by far the most incredible abuse I've ever read about. My jaw dropped over what she went through repeatedly throughout the book. What's even more amazing is the bond she shares with her siblings as they all seek to survive, and how they all come together. It's a powerful story of overcoming incredible odds.
As a book, the writing is amazing. She uses flashbacks beautifully and is able to change tenses with ease. I never once got lost with chronology, which is easy to do when people use techniques like this. The book almost never drags. There's a time toward the end where it slows down a little, but that's a welcome change after the intensity throughout the rest of the book.
It was aslo incredibly honest without being gruesome. There's nothing that's added for shock value - it is just her honest portrayal of what happened to her. At one point she even glosses over what perhaps was the most severe abuse the encountered. She does come across as a little self-promoting toward the end, but she definitely earned that liberty and far more.
I walked away feeling disgusted with the child welfare system (which I was anyway as a foster parent), but also so thankful for what I had growing up (even though it wasn't always great) and even more thankful for what I'm able to give my children. This is a story that will encourage and inspire anyone. I highly recommend it.
Regina Calcaterra's powerful memoir, Etched In Sand, begins with her flying over the ravaged neighborhoods of Long Island following the hurricane, Super Storm Sandy. As chief deputy executive of Suffolk County, it is Regina Calcaterra's job to regulate, not just post-disaster funding, but any government resources her county receives. Calcaterra's career in public service is not accidental; growing up with four siblings and an abusive, neglectful, alcoholic mother and an ineffective foster child system, Regina was determined to make a difference. Despite the extreme poverty and constant abuse from her mother, a fragmented education and unpredictable housing, Regina was able to help raise herself, and her siblings, to become stable adults and parents. The story as to how Regina grew up to be the person she is today is candidly written and absolutely heartbreaking.
Regina and her older sister, Camille, were the true parents of the five children. Every time their mother, whom they all called Cookie, found subsidized housing in either a cockroach-infested house or even an apartment above a glue factory, they knew it was only a matter of time until the landlord would kick them out for not paying rent. Traveling from house to house using garbage bags to carry their clothing, a bottle of hydrogen peroxide to finger brush their teeth, a half bar of soap to wash themselves and their dishes, the girls were always on the alert to sneak out in the middle of the night when threatened with eviction. As most of their welfare checks went towards paying for Cookie's beer and cigarettes, the children learned how to shoplift food and live off of the kindness of strangers. And, sadly enough, whenever Cookie would eventually abandon them, sometimes for weeks at a time, the children found these days to be the most stable and enjoyable.
Cookie was a pill-popping, promiscuous alcoholic with five children from five different men. Her only son, Norman, was rarely the subject of her abusive tirades that included calling her four daughters "whores' and "sluts". Cookie would beat the girls, but for reasons then unknown to Regina, she received the more brutal and most constant abuse. Cookie even tied the four year-old Regina to a radiator for days. These parts of the book are disturbing and heartbreaking and make the reader wonder how Regina grew up to be the successful woman we are introduced to in the beginning of the book.
Knowing that if child protective services became aware of the neglect and abuse, and consequently separated into different foster homes, the children learned how to hide the bruises and effectively lie to teachers or social workers about their obviously absent mother. The foster system thirty years ago was inefficiently managed and the social workers were unbelievably incompetent. There were times Regina endured beatings, even sexual abuse, from some of the foster families. And when the children are finally taken away from Cookie and separated into different homes, Regina is able to become an emancipated minor at age fourteen. But then she learns the heartbreaking truth she no longer has any say as to what happens with her younger brother and sister.
As I was reading this book, I was frequently reminded of Jeannette Wall's memoir, The Glass Castle. Though Walls did not suffer any mental or physical abuse from her parents, they did share the same nomadic, unstable childhood of extreme poverty and hunger. The scene in Walls' book when, driven by hunger, she ate a cheese sandwich from the school garbage can is similar to Regina Calcaterra's dumpster diving and shoplifting in desperation to feed her four siblings.
Throughout Etched In Sand, the readers are able to see how Regina was able to keep herself and her siblings educated, sane, and loving. Fiercely determined to prevent other children from suffering the same experiences, Regina stays in school and becomes the first in her family to graduate from college. Her career in public service is driven by her experiences and dedication to make a difference.
Etched in Sand is written from the heart. It is disturbing, but uplifting, and it is a story about survivors of abuse, neglect, hunger, ineffective social work programs and the foster system in America. How these five children survived and eventually thrived is a story that must be told.
Two adjectives that immediately spring to mind while reading this book are "stark" and "searing". It is stark in its descriptiveness of the abuse and neglect Regina and her siblings endured, and searing in the indictment of the failures of the social services networks and foster care systems that were seemingly totally incompetent in dealing with these circumstances.
There are several things that make Calcaterra's memoir unique in the genre of "abused child" narratives. Obviously, first and foremost, is the fact that it is the story of an entire family which survived the almost unbelievable brutality of an insane and addicted parent without themselves succumbing to insanity and addiction. This would seem, given our current cultural mystique, totally miraculous. Then, although there were a few bright spots in terms of caring, helpful adults among the teachers and foster parents who occasionally intervened in the lives of Regina and her siblings, the stunning central fact is that - as the author says - the kids literally raised themselves and each other. Finally, although one brief mention is made of the possibility of sexual abuse perpetrated by one of Cookie's men, it is NOT the theme here; somehow, perhaps because child molestation has become such a "hot topic" in recent times, I believe it has tended to overshadow the much more prevalent issue of physical abuse and neglect. Calcaterra also makes it clear that while the neglect of others, including the children's' fathers, exacerbated their mother's abusiveness, Cookie was indeed the sole perpetrator of the beatings and other vicious acts of violence.
Of course, the story ends triumphantly. Regina and her sisters and brother not only survive, but thrive. Furthermore, they do so because of the consistent love and caring they feel for each other, which is also miraculous given the apparent human tendency to form a "pecking order". Even the single male child, Norman, survived having been made the "pet" while his sisters were being constantly attacked. From a psychological point of view, I believe this is totally amazing.
By the way, this book was so masterfully written that I was able to completely accept two factors that have frequently "turned me off" in other narratives: the use of extremely vile language (but only in the context of the verbal viciousness of the mother's abuse combined with the beatings) and the present-tense style. These lend the priceless sense of reality and immediacy that completely engages the reader.
Although I am not a "survivor" of abuse myself, nor am I in any way actively involved in work with or advocacy for children in abusive situations, I perceive Regina Calcaterra's efforts to bring some of these issues to light in a truthful, clear and unapologetic way to be a major contribution to the absolutely necessary dialog on numerous important social concerns of our time. I hope it will achieve wide recognition and the acclaim it so rightly deserves.
ETCHED IN SAND is a true story about five siblings who struggled through childhood by taking care of each other and 'raising themselves'. Regina Calcaterra is a first time author who shares her painful story to help others overcome!! The story is set in Manhattan and the Hamptons where one does not expect to find such horror. Calcaterra is now a lawyer and activist for the 'underdog'..she sees many in our society nationwide. Foster care is one of the big problems she attempts to resolve since she experienced first hand how it works...and does NOT work. While still in her teens she fought many battles with foster care in particular with trying to have her younger siblings have a better life than she and her two older siblings had lived...hunger, sleeping in cars, sleeping in motels that her mother's men provided, etc; living inhouses with no heat, no water, etc; no food, stealing food, working outrageous hours for food, always making sure her siblings had food even when she did not. This is a heart rendering true story of today's youth with parents who refuse to parent. It is also a true story of the fight to survive and the strong bond of siblings knowing they are on their own. A marvelous read that you will not want to put down. I got my copy from Amazon and you can too.
on August 13, 2013
Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island by Regina Calcaterra is the true story of the abuse and neglect the author and her siblings suffered through - at the hands of their mother and in a system that wasn't working as it should. Regina notes that her childhood made her very aware of how people in power can impact the lives of others and this knowledge helped lead her to her present day career in public service.
Regina has two older sister, Cherie and Camille, and a younger brother and sister, Norman and Rosie. Regina makes it clear that their mother, Cookie, was a drunk who was always avoiding the cops. She abused and neglected her children, abandoning them for weeks at a time. She stole, wrote bad checks, and always had a series of warrants out for her arrest. While Cookie's "aim is to put in as little effort as possible to get what she can from whom she can, including the system (pg.31)" Regina (and her older sisters) wanted to keep themselves out of the system entirely.
These children were in an impossible situation. With their mother there was rampant abuse and neglect for certain, but in the system (foster care) lurked other very real potential dangers. As I was reading this powerful memoir, I literally had to set the book aside several times. It was so frustrating to see a system that wasn't working or groups that were unable to work together or across state lines.
It was encouraging and inspirational to see how Regina overcame the odds. As an emancipated teen in the system it certainly appeared that she would be lucky to escape from her childhood without any long term trauma. To see how hard and tirelessly Regina worked to overcome her background is a testimony to her determination. The determination she had to try and keep her siblings together or in contact with each other was touching.
At the same time, Regina is trying to confirm that her father really is the man Cookie has always said is her father. He won't admit it is true but the evidence seems to confirm Cookie is telling the truth. It was good to see a conclusion to this question, although the fact that she had to ask it is heart-breaking.
In Etched in Sand Regina writes about her childhood in the present tense with a simple straightforward honesty which makes the narrative feel more raw and tragic, if that is even possible. We know she survived this horrific childhood to become the successful adult she is today, but while reading about some of the abuse... oh.my.goodness. It's probably for the best that it is written in this manner, a recounting of the facts as she experienced them when a child.
This is a well-written personal account of a woman who overcame a deplorable childhood. It might be difficult for some people to read about the abuse, but for those who can, the triumphant conclusion of Regina's story today will outshine the appalling facts of her childhood.
Very Highly Recommended
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC for review purposes.
on August 13, 2013
Regina Calcaterra's book "Etched in Sand" is one of the most inspiring, emotional, intelligently written books I have read. The story of the survival of this family of siblings sheds light on the force of the human spirit and the instinct to survive and not give up. I stayed up most of the night to finish it. It is riveting and honest and at the same time haunting. What is so shocking is how the foster care system has failed so many children and young adults in our nation Had Ms. Calcaterra and her siblings not been as resourceful and clever as they were, one can only imagine how much more painful their lives would have been.
To have survived the abuse and neglect that they (especially the author) did is unimaginable and to have become the successful people that they are is extraordinary.
The message of hope and tenacity that this book imparts will stay with me for a long time. I highly recommend it. It should be required reading at the highest level of social services in this country.
I will purchase copies of this book to give to friends.
August 13, 2013
This is the story of how 5 children suffered unbelievable abuse at the hands of their mother, and sometimes from foster families, still somehow managed to remain a close family of siblings as they grew older.
Their mother is a very sick and abusive woman, yet she somehow was able to cover up her abuses enough to keep the children with her for long periods of time. The stories of her abuse of the children are difficult to read and quite disturbing. She also leaves her 5 children alone for long periods of time, and they essentially bring themselves up, with the older children taking care of the younger children, and learning to lie to authorities so they don't get separated. Each of the children have a different father and none of them are at all involved, in fact the author's father fights her from even getting a DNA test.
Some of the kids have been in foster care but amazingly the mother would get them back. The cycle of abuse continued always, unless she pulled one of her disappearing acts.
The mother should have been jailed for the injuries she caused the children - there was NEVER any love or kindness from her.
Finally the children all end up in foster care and the author is advised to become emancipated from her mother on her 14th birthday, and she does, but it works out badly because somehow the mother regains custody of the two youngest children and the author can no longer protect her youngest sister from her beatings, and it becomes harder and harder for her to stay in touch with her sister when they move across the country.
In the meantime Regina (the author) is living with a decent foster family, staying close to her two older sisters, one who married and the other who moved out of the foster families house. Regina always worries about her little sister, but also gets accepted into college and eventually becomes quite successful.
As the story goes on, it takes the youngest sister time to forgive the older ones for leaving her alone with her brother (who seems to escape the beatings) and her mother, but eventually she forgives them and they become close siblings and a close family despite the odds against that ever happening. It's almost miraculous. That part is uplifting, but the years of abuse make the story difficult to read - and you really have to read it to believe it.
The book left me questioning our foster care system, the Child Protective Services, and anyone else who could have stepped in to save these poor children. It's a compelling but difficult story to read.
Etched in Sand is a memoir about survival, poverty, extreme childhood abuse, and the deep love, and connection between five siblings who experience an extremely horrific childhood together. This is an amazing memoir that I just could not put down.
This story is written by Regina, one of five siblings who writes in detail about surviving both an alcoholic, and mentally ill mother.... And if that were not enough these children also survives extreme physical abuse, abandonment and poverty from this woman. This story is about the courage and faith it took for five children to survive against all of the odds and then going on to emancipate themselves from this woman, who should have never become a mother.
This book is about the strength of the human spirit, and the courage and love that the author Regina has in her heart and soul to be able to also tell this intense and horrific story, with wisdom love and compassion. It is heart wrenching and very intense..... but a VERY important story.
If you liked, "The Glass Castle" and "Cruel Harvest" this book ranks up there with these two other memoirs that speak of courage and enduring love. These books honor the voice of our outcast children. And all of these women authors go on move on into their lives becoming hero's to others by sharing their intense and painful stories, and creating purpose and meaning from these experiences. Brilliant!
What I love most about this book is that Regina's voice is unique, strong and captivating. Her attention to detail within the stories is remarkable and her writing is impecable. I read this book within two days, and just could NOT put it DOWN!!
With heroic wisdom, Regina continues on in her life to become a strong and important voice for the advocacy of the adoption of older foster children, and was appointed executive director of New York States Moreland Commission on Storm Preparation and Response.
Regina goes on to become a very important hero in her community by helping the recovery operation of Super storm Sandy in her leadership capacity as chief deputy executive of Suffolk County, proving that her beautiful and strong leadership spirit moves on to help others in selfless service. We should all strive to be like this amazing woman!
She is a true hero. She beats all the odds, goes on to help others, and then writes this beautiful and captivating memoir. Thank you Regina. It is a great book, and you are a blessing to this world. You are a true survivor! And my new Hero!
on April 28, 2015
This is the true story of how five children tried to band together to cover up the abuse of their mother, provide for their basic needs in a way that Social Services wouldn't become aware of and just be able to remain together so that they could protect one another.
The story openly shows how the Social Services system fails children but how perserverence, some adults to provide foster care or just believe in your capabilities can enable you to succeed when everything is against you. You don't have to continue the cycle but it does take some caring individuals to help you find your way out. Some of the emotional scars can heal but others do seem to hang on to the point where the feeling might be scabbed over but you are always going to protect that area since you fear the scab could be ripped off so easily.
As an educator, I have been frustrated by some of the responses that we receive from Social Services and I am very aware of the high needs, the lack of funding, and the small pay the workers get for trying to protect our most precious resource.
Regina has written an eye opening, well written memoir which more people should put on their "to read" list.
on October 26, 2014
Etched In Sand arrived yesterday- I was up into the wee hours of the morning to finish this beautifully written, compelling memoir. Regina Calcaterra, who is now a highly successful public advocate lawyer involved in NYS Government, courageously shares the painful, desperate world of her impoverished childhood in suburban Long Island. She is the middle child of 5 siblings of 5 different but absent fathers, who suffer the abuses of their mentally ill, alcoholic and drug addicted single mother. They are often homeless, hungry, abandoned for many weeks at a time, in and out of school as they move from place to place. Resilient, fiercely protective of each other, and remarkably wise scavengers, they discover means of survival independent of any parental support. Their mother "Cookie" is a violent, abusive obstacle that makes survival much harder as she spends the little money they acquire on her own destructive needs. The book exposes the inadequacies of our social and economic safety net, and highlights the vital role played public schools and libraries as safe havens and support. Regina Calcaterra opens our eyes to what is right in front of us and yet invisible due to indifference and ignorance. You will never again take your toothpaste and brush for granted.