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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Dear Sister Amygdala

Originally published 2/12/2015  This is a work of fiction...*cough*

So I understand that you slapped a seven year old across the face.  My son.  Your student.

You know he is disabled, that he has autism.

What's that?  You're saying the slap came from the almond shaped mass of nuclei deep within your brain? That your amygdala was trying to do what it does, process fear and anger, maybe a few old memories from your childhood?

Were they painful memories?

Oy, Sister.  He touched your veil, tugged on it even.  Yes, it came off, and this was the end of the world how?  Yes I know that you were humiliated, mortified.  But you should never, ever-ever-ever slap a student, especially an autistic seven year old.

Especially my autistic seven year old.

You're his first nun.  He met you only six months ago when school started.  He had no idea what the significance of the veil was.  But more important than discussing the obvious, I have a question:  Would you have told me yourself about the abuse?  Or did you think losing the veil was more significant than slapping a disabled child, so therefore not worth mentioning?  Were you so angry you felt he deserved a good hard slap and then, at best, hoped he wouldn't (be able to) tell anyone?

I wonder.

This morning I learned that you've been terminated.  My son would have been withdrawn from your school if the principal hadn't terminated you immediately.  And I must admit I'm a little sad about this, as puzzling as it sounds.  I don't really think you understand the gravity of your actions, which is part of the problem.  Someone who lives in a bubble shouldn't work with disabled children, especially when that someone has such a short fuse, a fuse lit by imaginary slights.

Yes, I understand that your cultural roots and naïveté contributed to your actions, lit up that tiny amygdala of yours like a roman candle.  With your emotions in overdrive I'm sure you felt there wasn't enough time to think of my autistic son's limited capacity to understand what he'd done, his unacceptable crime against your habit.  You only had time to think about your own feelings, right?

That's pretty messed up, Sister.

You described your emotions well:  "For a moment, it felt like an electric wave rushed over me."

Shock, perhaps?  Yes, you felt shock.  This is how I felt as well, when I learned you'd struck my son.  I'm still in shock.  Are you?  Is your amygdala still burning with rage?  Or are you feeling better now?  Maybe I should pray for you.


You know what's funny?  We've been down this road before.  Back in 2010 my son attended the preschool across the street from the school.  He was three and a half, had attended the program since the age of eighteen months.  He had a new teacher that year, Ms. Wormer.  She told me that she thought there was something "not quite right" with my son (her exact words).  Then a few weeks later she held my hands, looked deeply into my eyes and said she had joined a prayer group "to cope with having him in [my] class.  It's going to be a tough year."  She was, in essence, begging me to withdraw my son.

And so I did, immediately.

Fast forward three years later, when after a successful stint in a special school for children with autism, we decided to return to the Catholic education system.  With great trepidation, we enrolled my son in your school.  On the way to his "visiting day" he appeared nervous and said, "I don't like St. They're-All-The-Same.  The teachers are mean."

Really?  I wonder now what Ms. Wormer did to my son besides insult him in front of me?  And how did my son feel yesterday when his greatest fear came true?  His and mine.

Shame on you, Sister.  You and Ms. Wormer should have tea sometime.

I'm concerned that all the progress we've made over the years has been compromised now.  You've slapped the trust and confidence right out of both of us.  How many times did it happen, these slaps?  Just once?  Or have you been slapping him down for the past six months?

Yesterday, when I talked to him about never pulling on your veil again (as you'd asked in your hastily handwritten note, complete with exclamation points), he suddenly slapped himself across the face.

"Why did you do that to yourself?" I asked him.

"Sister hit me like that.  Hard.  It hurt."

I didn't want to believe such a thing could really happen.  I hoped my son was just acting out another scene from a favorite movie, but we don't really watch movies about nuns assaulting disabled children.  That's just not my favorite genre.  Then I watched the tears well up in his eyes while my own amygdala twitched and burned.  In my mother's gut I knew.  I knew you'd hit him.

A few minutes later you emailed me, asked a second time (just as emphatically) that I reinforce your lesson to my son, to make sure he never touches your precious veil again.  I emailed back, explained my son's reaction to our little talk, his inadvertently ratting you out.  To be fair, I asked you to elaborate.

Hours went by with no reply.  I imagined you lying prostrate before God, begging forgiveness while careful not to let your veil touch the floor.

Three hours and fifteen minutes later you wrote back:  "Yes I did.  And I am sorry for any hurt it may cause him.  I [sic] was more of a reaction to something so shocking on my part.  I understand that it was not the best response at the time."

An understatement, don't you think Sister?  Don't you also think my child was shocked to be slapped senseless by a woman in God clothes?  What a lovely shade of off-white.  I suppose each piece of your clothing has significance, perhaps even its own prayer as it is donned -- God bless this holy habit, and the institution for which it stands.

You are unaware that you've been terminated.  You are in training classes this morning, social skills training, I believe.  How ironic.

Tomorrow the school principal will hand you your walking papers.  You'll never hurt my son again, and he'll never again put his hands on your holy habit.  But I can't help but wonder where you'll go next.  Will you be transferred to another school?  Will you hurt others?  Will your career follow the course of abusive priests who were secretly shuffled from place to place, their egregious behaviors never properly punished?

No, you're not a pedophile, not even close, but you behaved inappropriately, a delicate word for a nun who hurts children.  And it wasn't just some kid you hurt.  It was my kid.  This incident has completely severed our faith in "the faithful."  I was already full of anger and doubt regarding religion, especially the Catholic Church.  The list of reasons is very long, but yesterday was the topper.  If a nun can't behave, a priest, a church, a teacher, what's the point?  Who can we trust?

Bottom line, Sister Amygdala, you chose a habit over a human.  That's not what Jesus would have done.  That thing on your head is made of cloth.  But my child is flesh, bone, blood, heart, and a mind that won't forget.