When The Free Agent isn’t busy advising world leaders, she occasionally checks out what’s showing on the TV machine. A recent marathon of MTV’s documentary series, “Teen Mom” hooked her like crack.
The show follows four veterans of a previous series, “16 and Pregnant”. One couple placed their baby with adoptive parents, two couples broke up, and one, Amber and Gary, are as of this week’s episode, still trying to live as a family. The series focuses on the girls’ struggles to finish high school, find new boyfriends, and get along with the family members upon whom they depend for financial and babysitting support. While MTV doesn’t sugar-coat their lives at all, neither does it make the hard realities of teen motherhood explicit.
In the first season, Amber and her fiancé Gary shared an apartment with their daughter Leah, and we saw Amber struggle, then give up on finishing high school. When she got a part-time job at a tanning salon, she found she didn’t have time to keep up with her GED class either. If she does not go back to school, the chance that Leah will grow up in poverty is 64%, compared to 7% had she been born to a mother who had at least a GED, and whose mother was married and at least 20 years old when she was born.
Children of teen mothers have a 33% dropout rate, almost one in three is diagnosed with depression, 16% will be incarcerated, and 25% will become teen parents themselves. (Worse yet, some grow up to be president.) 30% of U.S. teens will become pregnant, a rate far higher than any other industrialized nation, twice that, for example, of Canada.
But what has this to do with The Free Agent’s wheelhouse? Amber and Gary fought constantly, she nagging him to help her more and support her need for time to study. Gary’s point of view was that since he was supporting the family and they had money in the bank, he was doing his duty. Finally, Amber had had enough. “I didn’t want to ask the government for help,” she said, “but I just couldn’t go on fighting with Gary all the time. It wasn’t good for Leah.” Engagement broken, Amber found a replacement spouse who gives her no grief and asks only that she fill out paperwork—the state of Indiana. (Because she works, Amber will also get a big chunk of Earned Income Tax Credit when she files her federal return.) But she doesn’t experience it as being hopelessly dependent on her fellow citizens. “I’ve got my own place now,” she says, “and I’m paying the bills.”
The Free Agent will not tell anyone when they may spawn, but neither does she think a birth certificate should come stapled to a blank check on the taxpayers’ account.
In the first episode of season two, by the way, we learn that Gary has lost his job and moved into Amber’s apartment. The Free Agent is now in a three-way.