Monday, February 28, 2011

Mrs. Bissaillon

Mrs. Bissaillon is the gym teacher at the Perley Elementary School. She is a stern woman who rarely smiles.

Her preschool and kindergarten gym classes are unusually well behaved. The word on the playground is out; the kids have been warned. This woman has no tolerance for misconduct.  It is as if the milk cartons in the cafeteria contain dire warnings and photographs of kids who misbehave in her class. She reminds me of a hardened Marine Drill Instructor as she barks out commands to her classes of tiny terrified tots.

"Joshua, if you can not be quiet and listen to my instruction, you can go sit over on the bleachers until you can." she barks. The once rambunctious child is jolted into submission as he hangs his head and slowly shuffles over to the bleachers to serve his sentence and pray that his photo does not appear on the milk cartons.

Before Nicholas started kindergarten, my 8-year-old son, Weston was relentless in his horror stories of Mrs. Bissaillon. Being a rambunctious child himself, and having served plenty of his own time on the bleachers, Weston made it very clear to Nicholas, this was not a teacher to underestimate.

Even parents dropping their children off at school in the morning seem to avoid any unnecessary eye contact with Mrs. Bissaillon. The mere sight of her seems to conjure up their own nightmarish memories of tyrant teachers and days spent in detention halls.

 I must admit, I too, am afraid of her.

So, you can imagine my surprise when one day Mrs. Bissaillon boldly marches up to speak directly to me. Thoughts run amok inside my head as I desperately try to prepare myself for what she is about to say.

She can’t be complaining about Weston this time, he’s at the middle school now, I think quietly to myself. It can’t be me; I don’t even go to school any more! Did I look at her funny? Does she notice the cold sweat on my forehead when I walk past the gym? Thoughts speed through my brain like ping pong balls. Then, as if a bucket of cold water is thrown over my head, I realize, oh no, it’s Nicholas!

More thoughts, faster this time, oh no, he had one of his tantrums, probably the full-blown kind where he throws himself to the ground, kicking his feet and screaming. That’s it, and now she’s starting to speak. I close my eyes to prepare myself for what’s coming. I am ready to hear how she is dedicating an entire bleacher section to me to help remind others of what happens to those with poor parenting skills.

 “Mrs. Peters!” 

“Yes?” I ask tentatively, cringing just a little bit.

“I need to tell you what a delightful little boy your son Nicholas is!” And for the first time in Perley Elementary School history, she smiles.

“What?” I ask.

“That’s right, she says, “Can I tell you just how hard this little boy works! Our first activity in class is running two laps around the gym. Your son led the class for the entire two laps!”

I am completely speechless. Her words have paralyzed me. I struggle to visualize my son actually winning a running race. She is still smiling as she continues her description of the day’s events.

“He ran two laps, played our beanbag game, and still had enough energy to help all the other children pick up their bags. He listened very closely to all of my instructions. But there is something else,” she says.

This is where she tells me about the tantrums, I think.

“Your son looks at me with such love in his heart.”

I am stunned. I look at Mrs. Bissaillon and quickly realize, that like Nicholas, this woman is often misunderstood. Underneath her hardened exterior, beats the heart of a deep and loving woman. She sees my son for who he is, a unique and contributing individual, not a horrific diagnosis. She is one of the truly special few.

Why was Nicholas so cooperative in class I wondered to myself? Was Weston able to strike fear into his heart?  Or was it something else?  Did he see something the rest of us could not?  Since his birth, Nicholas has developed many beautiful gifts. But the gift that touches me most, is his innate ability to seek out the individuals who seem to need the most love. He finds the souls in this world who are the most misunderstood, the most tormented or just the most saddened.  He finds the Mrs. Bissaillons of the world and he speaks to them. Sometimes with just a smile but more often it is with a warm and enthusiastic “Hello!”  The response to his enthusiasm, no matter how tormented, misunderstood or saddened folks feel, is always the same, a smile.

To me, it is as if my son has been sent from above with a very special mission, simply to love the world. There are days when the reality of Prader Willi Syndrome gets me feeling down. It is on those down days that I like to watch my son closely, as he gives his special gift so medicinally to the silent sufferers of this world. And with his unselfish acts of kindness, my silent suffering also comes to an end, at least for a moment.

“Did you hear me?” Mrs. Bissaillon asks, snapping me out of my thoughts and back into reality.

“Yes,” I say smiling at her, and suddenly she looks very different to me.


Please come visit us on our blog at where you can share our stories on family life and learn more about our journey dealing with Prader Willi Syndrome, ADHD, Dementia and our effort to keep sane and enjoy our lives despite these diagnoses. 


  1. you have me in tears over my morning coffee. Thank you for sharing this. I often believe my son too sees something in people that others often overlook. We are so blessed to have these children but it is extra special when others, particularly those who are not known for such things, take notice of their wonderful spirits.

  2. This might be my favorite Hopeful Parents post in ages. Your portrait of Mrs. Bissaillon is so spot-on. We all know women like her. What we don't know is what your son knows, and you've expressed it beautifully -- thank you.

  3. Sophie brings that out in people too. It is magical to see. Our kids are amazing.
    Great post!

  4. One of the best posts I've read anywhere lately. I am sure many of us can relate. What a terrific reminder to look past the surface and rely on our own experiences with an individual rather than heresay. My daughter was assigned "the meanest, worst second grade teacher in the history of the school who always yelled at everyone." She was terrified by all the stories she heard from the other students (most of which were apocryphal) and was a bundle of nerves on the first day of school. It turns out that Mrs. Smith just had really high standards and wasn't a pushover with students. Mrs. Smith turned out to be one of the best and kindest and supportive teachers Amanda ever had. She still runs up to her for a hug when she sees her!
    Nolan (age 7, PWS) also has that special quality of unconditional love and acceptance of others. Thanks for a great story, fabulously told. Hooray for Nicholas...and Mrs. Bissaillon!

  5. What a terrific post!!! I just love that Mrs. Bissaillon could tell you this, but even more that Nicholas has this gift.

  6. Thank you all very much for your comments. I feel very fortunate to be a part of this community.

  7. That is just so beautiful. Thank you for sharing this story with us. I just needed to read something so lovely and uplifting tonight.