Etched in Sand: A True Story of Five Siblings Who Survived an Unspeakable Childhood on Long Island by Regina Calcaterra
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Description: Regina’s Calcaterra memoir, Etched in Sand, is an inspiring and triumphant coming-of-age story of tenacity and hope.
Regina Calcaterra is a successful lawyer, New York State official, and activist. Her painful early life, however, was quite different. Regina and her four siblings survived an abusive and painful childhood only to find themselves faced with the challenges of the foster-care system and intermittent homelessness in the shadows of Manhattan and the Hamptons.
A true-life rags-to-riches story, Etched in Sand chronicles Regina’s rising above her past, while fighting to keep her brother and three sisters together through it all.
Beautifully written, with heartbreaking honesty, Etched in Sand is an unforgettable reminder that regardless of social status, the American Dream is still within reach for those who have the desire and the determination to succeed.
My thoughts: Regina is the middle child of a mentally ill and abusive woman. Each child has a different father. The oldest three do not know who their biological fathers are. They are often homeless, living out of a car, or unattended in a house without food, heat, electricity or water. When their mother is at home, they are beaten ruthlessly, physically and emotionally.
The oldest three children try to protect the younger two from their mothers' rampages and moods. They have discovered that life in foster care is not easier nor better. They are split up and exposed to physical and sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and generally not often taken care of. The goal is to stay together and protect each other. The problem is that they are still children. Their voices lack volume and power. They often feel helpless, hopeless, and powerless. Do they try to keep together by keeping the secrets of the crazy mother or do they trust a social service worker to keep them safe?
We know that Regina grows up to get a law degree. We know she works in the public sector that write policy. She is deeply involved in protecting children and families. We know she works for the state of New York. Hers is one voice and one story. It is a compelling story because we want to hear success stories. We want to hear how we are doing a good job in this country. But Regina's story is bitter sweet. It is a courageous act to openly disclose her past. She is courageous in describing how she was brutalized, victimized, powerless, and feeling weak and unworthy. It's not so much overcoming her past but embracing it, keeping what was good (her siblings and the experiences she had to make her who she is today), and healing her wounds. She is an amazing woman who took her experiences and integrated them into her strong drive to make a better future for other foster kids.
Regina details not only the way the system broke down and damaged her and her siblings, but also the way it succeeded. There were holes in the net that Regina and especially her sister, Rosie, fell through but sometimes Regina was caught. I think Rosie eventually found a community that held her up but not until she was grown. It is difficult to read Regina's story. Regina tells her history honestly, includes interpretations and how she was feeling but does not mire the book up with justifications for herself. She allows the reader to conclude how to interpret her mother's actions (she's a nut job).
This is one story with four others possible. Each child in the family has a different experience. Celia marries young and has her own struggles. Camille marries young but chooses a husband that is completely foreign to Regina. He loves Camille and their children with devotion and affection. Regina's story is this book. Norm is somewhat a mystery, and Rosie's experiences included years of isolation when her sisters could no longer protect her and social services did not intervene.
This is not a book that slams social services or Child and Family Protective Services. Regina, herself, spends years in foster care. Some placements were horrendous. Others were not so bad. She does build an affectionate relationship with at least one set of foster parents that continues to this day. The fact is that these five children survived a horrible childhood and are contributing members of society today and are raising a new generation of children who will never know the horrors of abuse and foster care is nothing short of miraculous. Regina even hints at this fact, acknowledging that she believed she had these experiences for a reason. She was committed to using her knowledge to make the world a better place. Although not expressly written, it is clear that Regina has a strong connection with God and believes He had a hand in her life by strategically placing her and others on the same path.
I am in awe at Regina's perseverance and perspective. I really want to give it to a 14 year old girl I know that is struggling in foster care. It may not have appropriate language for a 14 year old but it is definitely a genuine recounting of an adult child that survived foster care, homelessness, and crazy experiences. Not only did she survive, but she brought her siblings with her.