Introducing a new documentary at HBO, "Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert," Executive Director Sheila Nevins paused at the podium to ask Trent Gilbert whether or not he was feeling safe. The dimpled 4 year old who nearly steals the show from his mom, was seated in the back of the screening room, about to see the movie about the challenges facing his family, mom as well as his two older sisters, as they struggle to live on the $9.49/ per hour mom makes working at an elder care facility. The kids are well mannered and cooperative with the filmmakers, Shari Cookson and Nick Doob, as they follow the family around for a year, part of The Shriver Report, from home in a trailer, to child care, and in and out of various cars including the one driven by their dad who does not live with them while Katrina has to help pay for his gas. This life in Chattanooga, Tennessee is not the worst, not utter poverty, it is just the way it is for this ambitious mother who is seen as emblematic of 42 million American mothers out there, trying.
Maria Shriver, Gloria Steinem, and Katrina Gilbert took part in a post-screening panel. The inequities of an economic system that does not pay hard working people, men and women, enough to keep them beyond a paycheck to paycheck reality was not missed on this gathering. That the film never addresses Katrina's larger situation, never shows, for example, family stepping in to help out, suggests a value in American individualism. In fact, Katrina told this reporter, her mother who is a traveling nurse, helped when her marriage was breaking up. Her sisters are in worse shape than she is. And she is eager to return to school. By any measure, Gilbert works hard, and in some ways, the plight of the men, Gilbert's ex, as well as her fiance, seem just as difficult. Whatever you may think about economics in the heartland, you will come away admiring Katrina Gilbert as an excellent mother.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.