Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Etched in sand: A true story of five siblings who survived an unspeakable childhood on Long Island by Regina Calcaterra

Regina and her four siblings did not have a normal childhood - they experienced abuse and homelessness as their mother self medicated with alcohol and spend more time away from home with her boyfriends than she did looking after her children.  Cherie, Camille, Regina, Norman, and Rosie essentially raised themselves, resorting to all sorts of extreme measures to make sure that at least Norman and Rosie had enough to eat.  Their mother Cookie was a force of nature, one that uprooted their lives more than once - a woman who had five children by five different fathers, a woman who was in and out of their lives as they bounced from rental accommodation  to homelessness, to foster homes.

What could easily have been a bleak and unforgiving story is instead a story of hope - Regina not only survived her childhood, she managed to succeed beyond anyone's expectations.  When she finally told the truth as a teenager it sparked the beginning of a journey for all the siblings, one that was at times very difficult to read - especially when you remember that they were very young children at the time.  The scary thing, probably the scariest thing for me, is the lack of belief on the part of social services about the abuse that Regina and her siblings experienced in foster care.  They were beaten, neglected, and there are hints that Regina was sexually assaulted or at least "interfered with" at one of the homes - and they were not believed.  

Children in foster care are extremely vulnerable, and through the course of the book you realise just how vulnerable they are, and how lucky Regina was in some cases.  The scary thing is that the neglect and abuse Regina and her siblings experienced is not unique, and there are children all over the world who wake up everyday not knowing if they are safe, not knowing if they have enough to eat, not knowing if one wrong move will result in a beating.  At one point Regina wonders out loud if a social worker she is dealing with has just been through "Social Work 101" and you have to wonder if that was true because of the boneheaded things he did - and the fact that he never checked into Regina's background.  

People often seem to have a relucatance to acknowledge that child abuse and neglect happens - except in the extreme cases where there are broken bones, permanent damage, or even death.  In New Zealand child abuse and neglect are a shameful mark against the entire country - there is an extremely high rate of child abuse here, and a lot of it is the "small" things like neglect, failing to supply the necessities of life, and being too quick to lash out at children.  Every year children die at the hands of their parents and other caregivers and Regina and her siblings are lucky they didn't become such a statistic.

Etched in sand is not an easy read, it is nauseating to think that a parent can have such little regard for a child - any child.  Children are vulnerable and at the mercy of the adults raising them, and in the case of Regina and her siblings the neglect and abuse resulted in them raising themselves.  If you are working with foster children, or are considering working as a social worker then you need to read Etched in sand and other stories of this kind so you can work into your job with your eyes wide open - these are not unique stories, they are just the stories where the person has the courage to lift their voice and share their experiences.

Take your time with this story and pause when you need to.  If you read this book and want to read other biographies from people who have lived through difficult experiences and trauma, then try:
  • Child C: Surviving a foster mothers reign of terror by Christopher Spry
  • Punished by Vanessa Steel
  • A child named It by Dave Pelzer
  • Broken by Shy Keenan
  • Damaged by Cathy Glass
  • When rabbit howls by Truddi Chase
  • The little prisoner: A memoir by Jane Eliott
  • Sickened: The memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood by Julie Gregory

Reviewed by Brilla

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