Follow your common sense. Strike a balance between love and discipline. One shouldn’t be at the expense of the other. And everything will be just fine. These are a few of Mrs. Paulette Blain’s golden words. Mrs. Blain was my daughter’s kindergarten exemplary teacher.
Mrs. Paulette Blain is one of those exceptional creatures who seldom cross our path. A septuagenarian who barely looked in her fifties. With blond, perfectly styled hair, a petite stature, and an illuminating smile, Mrs. Paulette was simply a delightfully beautiful lady inside and out. A mom of four children herself and grandparent of six, she was a natural pedagog who spent her adult life teaching in local US schools as well as American international schools overseas.
At the Quality International School of Yerevan, Armenia, I met Mrs. Blain. My memories of our first encounter remain vivid. I walked inside the class holding my daughter’s shaky hands, trying to soothe her. It was my daughter’s first day, at an unfamiliar school in a country that we had just moved to a few days earlier.
Mrs. Blain was there standing by the door receiving the 5-year-old kids with widely opened arms as a loving grandma who had known them since their emergence into the world. Her genuine smile and loving gestures mitigated the anxiety of the concerned parents and calmed the tearful kids. Clearly, she knew how to expertly smoothen the transition to a real school experience. The separation drama didn’t last past the first day, thanks to her remarkable wisdom. Indeed, my daughter developed a deep rooted affinity for her new world.
In her class, she masterfully embraced a dozen kids who come from disparate cultural backgrounds: Armenian, American, Kuwaiti, French, just to name a few. For another layer of complexity, some of these kids belong to mixed couples. In this buzzing ocean of overlapping and sometimes antithetical cultures found in one class, Mrs. Blain expertly ensured a smooth sailing.
She created harmony in her class. She helped her kindergarten students bridge their culture differences and taught them how to communicate respectfully. Mrs. Blain represented the American spirit in its best form. She set in her class an ethics code that all parents and students respected equally, while converting the differences into a wonderful mosaic of nuanced cultures.
Mrs. Blain’s role transcended the walls of her class. She devotedly mentored younger teachers as well as some of the parents. In the most loving, confident, and non judgmental tone, she adeptly guided us in addressing our kids’ emotional and mental needs, mitigating their difficulties, and tapping into their strengths. “Her love and joy are contagious,” as one of her colleagues described her.
One day my daughter came back from school to recount that Mrs. Blain shared with her yummy crunchy crackers when she found her reluctant to eat her vegetable sticks and hummus dip. I was deeply touched by her munificent gesture. To thank her, I sent her some french spice cookies that I baked the previous day. In my daughter’s backpack was the most courteous “thank you” card from Mrs. Blain. That explains why I always subconsciously associate those cookies with her and named them after her.
When Women’s Day was around the corner, I planned a dinner to honor my favorite women in town. Mrs. Blain was on the top of my list.
Exactly three weeks before the dinner, my husband and I were having an early lunch in an Italian restaurant. My husband received a call that interrupted our conversation. The school principal was on the line. My husband’s brief answers and haunting pallor was deeply worrisome. He ended the call to announce the tragic news: Mrs. Blain life was taken in a hiking accident outside an Armenian village.
At her funeral we – the class moms – looked like sisters mourning the sudden loss of our mom, solemn and in a state of disbelief. Introducing the concept of death, that early, to our kids complicated the grief, to say the least.
In the days and weeks that followed her tragic passing, colleagues and parents came forward to relay touching accounts about the marvelous woman she was. I keep wondering how a person whom we’ve only known for 6 months could mean so much to us.
It took us weeks and months to be able to digest the tragedy. On the day our kids graduated from kindergarten, the school arranged a pleasant and festive party. Our smiles were mixed with tears: We were too emotional to bring up her name, but we all shared one feeling. She was a living angel among us and now she is definitely watching us over and celebrating with us.
The recipe here is of the cookies I offered to her once. I tweaked the original recipe and named them after her. I bake them on her anniversary and fondly remember the wonderful human being, the tactful lady and the role model educator and mentor Mrs. Paulette Blain was.
Mrs. Blain Cookies
Recipe Inspired by “Le Grand Livre Marabout de la Patisserie Facile”
Makes 30 cookies
- 225 grams all purpose flour
- 165 Muscovado or dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon spice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 150 grams diced butter at room temperature
- 1 whole egg
- 55 grams granulated white sugar
- In the bowel of a stand mixer hooked with pedal attachement, mix all the ingredients, except the white granulated sugar, until a dough come together. Divide the dough into two equal pieces, wrap each with a plastic film and place them in the fridge for at least 30 min.
- Preheat the oven at 180°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Roll out the dough and cut out 30 discs and/or squares. Sprinkle granulated sugar on top of the cookies
- Bake the cookies for approx. 10 minutes. Right after taking them out of the oven, transfer them to a cooling wire rack.
- Leaving the dough in the fridge is a necessary step. It helps the dough to rest, the butter to harden again to get nicely shaped cookies, and for the spices to impart their flavors into the dough.