Fear was never part of the school day, but this is the country we live in now

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Claudia Sternbach used to be a teaching assistant at Santa Cruz Montessori, and writes that she is horrified and furious at Tuesday’s school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Eighteen-year-old Salvador Ramos killed 21 people, 19 of them children. Sternbach has a grandson in second grade in Los Angeles and says that fear should not be part of the school day. She demands action from Republican lawmakers on gun violence.

Tuesday, May 24. A day we can and must all remember.

A lifetime ago, I was a teaching assistant at Santa Cruz Montessori. It was a job I loved. Working with young children eager to explore the world. Every morning, children would be dropped off in the school parking lot to be greeted by a teacher. A quick wave goodbye to their “chauffeur” and down the path they would head to their classrooms.

Fear was never a part of the day.

They were safe at school with teachers who cared for them. One of the most exciting times of the year was when we would host an open house for the students and parents. The kids were always over the moon with pride, thrilled to show off all they had accomplished.

That was then.

Tuesday morning, my grandson woke up to a sunny day in Los Angeles, eager to get to his elementary school to see his friends and teachers. It was going to be a special day, with open house scheduled for the parents that evening. He is so very proud of his school and his teachers. This is a wonderful thing after two years of COVID-19 and school at home for the most part. It wasn’t easy making the transition. But he slowly began to feel safe there.

Happy and engaged.

In Texas, children gathered at an elementary school in Uvalde, a small community west of San Antonio, settling at their desks, chattering and laughing, I would imagine, while waiting for the school day to begin.

While my grandson was helping to plan the events for the open house with his second grade classmates, a gunman entered the Texas school and opened fire, killing 19 children and two adults. Killing them.

Killing them in all of their innocent beauty. Slaughtering them.

We can’t even count how many friends, family members, strangers will be broken by this. By the constant stream of gun violence in this country. It never ends. Prayers, thoughts, etc., mean nothing any more.

My question to our Republican lawmakers, to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, is how much is a life worth? How do you calculate what you are paid by the NRA against how many gun deaths there are every year? When do you say this isn’t worth it? You all have blood on your hands; no, actually you are up to your necks in a river of blood. Each and every one of you. How will you address this on the television news? Please, every cliché has been used.

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How much are our children supposed to carry on their slender shoulders? We cannot tell them with all certainty that this will not happen to them in their schools. Or tell them they should feel safe in a grocery store shopping with their mothers. Or riding the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

I am angry. Red-hot angry. I am sick to my stomach.

I am tired of the old Second Amendment trope. I call bullshit. This is about money. This is about people, mostly men, who believe that is their right to carry a killing weapon with them, licensed or not. In plain view, or not. Because why? Because it improves their swagger.

Is that a gun in your pocket or money from the NRA?

The open house at my grandson’s school didn’t feel as festive as they had hoped.

I picture the looks the parents gave each other while trying not to share their emotions with their children. The whispers between mothers, fathers, teachers. The deep grief and horror they tried to hide.

But it is really pointless. The children will hear of this. The children will know what happened in the small Texas town. They probably already do. They will have to carry one more burden on their shoulders.

What will you say to them, Governor Abbott? Will you tell them that in all honesty, the money was just too good to pass up?

More than 24 hours has now passed. Wednesday and Thursday morning, parents and caregivers drove to my former school, the Santa Cruz Montessori School, to drop off their children.

I can imagine the goodbye hugs lasted just a bit longer, as adults had to take a leap of faith they never should have to. Will my child be safe? Will they survive the day? Is this the last time I will ever see them alive?

This is the country in which we now live.

Claudia Sternbach has lived in Santa Cruz County for four decades. She is the author of three memoirs: “Now Breathe,” “Reading Lips,” and, most recently, “Dear Goldie Hawn, Dear Leonard Cohen.” She has written for several news publications, was a regular columnist for the Santa Cruz Sentinel and served as editor-in-chief of the literary journal Memoir.

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