Brian Sullivan: Returning to school has an eerie feel

Thursday January 3, 2013


It was never my favorite day. But returning to school after a long break is inevitable. And so it was that our kids made the trek back to their respective institutions of learning on Wednesday following the holiday halftime. I did see plenty of children on both the snow-covered hills at Reid Middle School and Clapp Park, so it was kind of reassuring to know that some children at least took time away from their technology to brave and enjoy the outdoors.

Remember when a new wooden sled was the ideal holiday gift?

So, our kids went back on Wednesday -- and today it’ll be the kids at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., although at a new building altogether. I tried to put all those pieces together in my mind and had trouble connecting the dots. Can you process what this morning was like for those parents preparing to send their kids back to school? Can you process what it was like for the parents of the deceased who had neither a jacket zipper to pull up, boots to tug over feet nor a scarf to wrap around a neck?

How many parents drove their children to school in Newtown this morning? I’m going to guess that most did. I’m going to also guess that many counted the seconds until it was time to pick them up. I’m going to guess it will take some time before the routine becomes, well, routine.


My sister, Noreen, retired as a middle-school ESL teacher two years ago. She lived in Enfield, Conn., and taught in the Chicopee school district. She was able to get out in her 50s and is quite happy now in retirement with her husband in Florida.

We spoke over the holidays and eventually worked our way into what happened in Newtown. I asked if she had put herself in the role of a teacher faced with a horrific moment that required actions that might put hew own life on the line.

Sure, she said, adding and asking what teacher had not.

"Absolutely," she said when asked about protecting the children first. "I’ve lived my life and those children were just starting theirs. I would expect any teacher to feel the same way. And as a parent my expectations for the teachers is the same."

Noreen’s teaching position in Chicopee was in no small part due to the efforts of a close teaching friend who encouraged her to apply for the job. That woman later left her Chicopee job for an elementary school teaching position in Connecticut.

That’s right, it was at Sandy Hook and she taught the lower grades. My sister’s friend? She retired from Sandy Hook this past June. Can you imagine? I can’t.

Said Noreen, "I visited her in Newtown a few times in recent years but never did see the school. I sent an email to her and I suspect she will reply when she’s ready."

Back to school? Yes. In Newtown, back to normal? It will probably be a while.


I wanted to share a couple of New Year’s Eve stories when I realized I don’t have any good ones to share. When I write my autobiography, this will not be a chapter. A quick look back reveals that for the most part I’ve low-keyed this holiday tradition. I remember, sort of, a night of music at Woody’s in the town of Washington and maybe a handful of "adventures," but not a lot of howling of which I can truly boast.

For the sake of just doing it, I did make back-to-back trips to New York City in the early 1980s to watch the ball drop with a million or so of my closest friends. When I reached into the pocket of my winter jacket to retrieve whatever had been there to help keep me warm, I was stunned to realize the pocket was empty. Thankfully, the pro who lifted the goods didn’t also get my wallet.

I guess it was just me and Dick Clark and some college football for many of those years. And now Dick’s not even around. I sort of missed him on Monday night, but I did watch the ball drop and began to mentally brace myself as we all tumble headlong into 2013.

Who knows? Maybe this year it will all work out. We can only hope.

Brian Sullivan can be reached at


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