No Yawning Allowed
On Tuesday evening, April 13, Governor Jesse Ventura and Christine Jax (the Commissioner of Children, Families, and Education) walked onto the stage at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul and looked out at all of us: a gathering of moms, dads, and kids. We'd been warmed up by the Teddy Bear Band and the kids were still kind of rocking in their seats. I hadn't brought my kids with me, and I immediately felt like I should HELP all the moms and dads who were trying to shush their kids into some level of quiet and attention. I wished I had crackers in my pocket, or crayons and paper to pass out. But the sound system was good, so it didn't really matter. In fact the sound of babies, toddlers and KIDS was quite politically correct, since we had gathered to hear our governor and his commissioner speak to what those of us who had responded to Minnesota Parent's Survey considered to be the top four issues which concern us as parents:
* Early childhood education programs
* Quality, affordable, accessible child care
* Prevention of violence in schools
* Improving public education and
* student/teacher ratios
Each topic was introduced by host Kim Insley, and real life stories were told by people who had been part of the Minnesota Parenting Association's round table discussions. This was brilliant. As each group of parents or families got up to speak, I loved watching the real, everyday people come up to the stage, near the governor and commissioner, to speak directly to them. What an opportunity for all of us to hear and witness . . . and for those people to get to name their concerns right to the bosses. Jesse listened and responded graciously. I felt like I was getting a clearer picture of all the different family situations in our state. It must have been amazing for the people who spoke to stand on the stage, talking about their own situations, DIRECTLY to the governor and his commissioner! One mother of five children said, "And now, Governor, I need to ask that each of our children shake your hand, or there's going to be a lot of trouble in school tomorrow!"
The governor was relaxed and casual. He listened to the questions and responded in what I have come to consider his characteristic manner: telling a few anecdotes from his own life, and speaking in generalizations. Seeing him in person was great: perhaps because he is quite comfortable in front of the camera he has always looked natural on T.V. I felt accustomed to his voice and speech pattern already. He still kind of looks like he doesn't quite get what he is supposed to do and like that THAT IS OK WITH HIM. Many people find this refreshing. Many others find it amusing. I find it sort of disheartening. I'm not sure it would be any better with someone who was more politically savvy up there, giving us some rhetoric about the importance of families--but I felt a glaze coming over us all as we continued into the hard work of trying to get some clarity on these issues.
Christine Jax was well prepared and articulate. I know that she had a lot of us interested in her as soon as she described that she is raising three children, and that during the years those children were small she was a single mom. She described being at poverty level during some of that time. Later she had a day care in her home. Here she is now in her professional garb, with her notes on her lap and her attentive expression. I felt like I was seeing a friend, an ally, someone who "has been there."
The governor got himself in a little trouble when he was asked to talk about violence in the schools. He immediately equated this with the need for discipline, and described his own experience as a junior-high student, being "paddled" by the gym teacher for misbehavior in his classroom. His gym teacher was evidently assigned this side duty, and every day was on hand to "paddle" whoever had misbehaved. A young pregnant woman who was sitting near me JUMPED to her feet, shouting, "That's it! I'm leaving! You're advocating corporal punishment! Jesse said, "Now just a minute, I'm NOT advocating corporal punishment. I'm just saying that this is what happened to ME!"
He went on to say that he only needed to be paddled ONCE, to know that kind of humiliation, in order for him to behave. I sat there, trying to figure out where I stood on all of this. I am a total NO SPANKING mom, and here was my governor, sort of self-righteously telling us that HE had been paddled, it had worked for HIM. Was he advocating that we get paddles back into the schools? What was he trying to say about the problems that had just been described: guns in schools, fighting in schools, police being brought onto school busses to keep kids in line? The air was tense. Our host Kim Insley politely moved on to the next question.
The wonderful thing about getting a bunch of people together who are passionately interested in a topic is the kind of dialogue that ensues. The Minnesota Parent Panel with our governor was a great forum for those of us who participated to listen to our governor and commissioner, to let them know our own experiences, and then to converse with each other about what we heard and what we felt. My friend Betty and I were glad that we had come and glad that we got a chance to see Jesse Ventura up close. Christine Jax was very impressive and struck me as a person who really knows what she is talking about.
The crowd was itching to ask questions and make comments, and many of us spoke to each other in response to what we were hearing throughout the session. Then Jesse said he was tired. He had to leave, he said. Hmmmm . . . I was tired too, and all these moms and dads in the audience were tired. There were more than a few tired children in our midst. Later I told Betty I didn't think a public servant should say he is tired. Betty thought it was great that he was admitting to his humanness. I was feeling a bit more stern. I said I thought that being together with a group of concerned and anxious constituents, working through a long-planned-for agenda of discussion topics, he owed it to us to stick with it. And it would have been nice if he showed his super-human strength to overcome his fatigue to stick with us to the end of the session. Betty thought I was a little overboard on this one. "He's HUMAN!" she said. I know. So am I. But HE'S the governor.
I don't know. Maybe I was a little overboard. But I want so badly to like Jesse Ventura, to believe in him, to hear him say something of real substance about these issues. I want him to hear and see the many different types of families that are out here in Minnesota and the many concerns we have for the basic needs of our lives. I'm glad we all got together. I'm sorry he was tired. I'm glad I got to hear a Hmong dad explain that he is going to school, working a job, his wife is working a job and they need to have quality, affordable day care. I'm sorry that Jesse reiterated that when HE was young he got to go across the street to his grandma's for baby sitting. I know that we aren't going to reintroduce the paddle in the public schools, but I am not convinced that Jesse Ventura understands that the violence in our schools is a symptom of many changes in our society and that funding the programs that foster development of people as parents, and that strengthen the social and emotional lives of our children is necessary.
We need better paying jobs and child-care options that are really workable so that our kids don't get the short end of the paddle . . . er, stick.
We need to stand firm as parents, asking questions, seeking answers, supporting each other. It was great to be at the forum. I was glad to have the opportunity to be with so many other moms and dads and kids. I was tired when I got home. But I was ready to talk, too. I logged onto Jesse Ventura's Web page to read what others were saying to him and about him. I hope he got a good night's sleep.
Nanci Olesen is the host and producer of "MOM-bo, a mom show with an attitude" which airs locally on KFAI (90.3FM Minneapolis, 106.7FM St. Paul) at 3 p.m. on Wednesdays, and nationally on the Pacifica Radio Network.
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