Making Plans for Georgia

This weekend my Facebook newsfeed has been awash with friends who are sending their kids off to university. For months now, I’ve been enjoying watching many of my friends and their kids engage in the planning for higher education exercise: decision-making about what university to attend which involves going on tours, weighing the pros and cons, thinking about past wishes and focusing on future plans. This weekend, these plans culminated in a series of compellingly lovely smartphone photos posted on timelines: of boxes of stuff sitting on patios or filling up the backs of cars, of good-byes and freshly arranged residence rooms, of posed family photos outside historical buildings and library entrances. Status updates about the worthwhile years of saving, the worries and anticipated phone calls, about driving away and arriving home to an emptier house. The bittersweet pride and joy mixed with that inevitable wave of sad-happy that these kinds of landmarks in life wash across us. The coming to fruition of plans.

I have already accustomed myself (mostly) to the idea that I won’t be doing that for Georgia, in any way, shape or form. I’ve written a lot in this column about trajectory, and how the trajectory of Georgia’s life will take on a much different form that what I might have imagined for my child, before I met her. I’m still very wistful about it, I admit, but I am realistic. The plans I might get to make for Georgia will be much different than a university education, although they will involve similar kinds of fundamental values and driving forces: wanting my child to be happy, accomplished in her own way, engaged in the world around her and actively participating in her own life and choices.

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Georgia getting her grade 8 diploma, June 2013.

But it’s more than that. It’s about making plans. It’s about making a plan based on all kinds of things that you get to nurture as it develops, ponder on late at night when you can’t sleep and fantasize about when you’re feeling giddy. There’s something I want to say to those parents – many of them my friends – and it isn’t, “Remember how fortunate you are to have a child who can head off to university”. No, no. It’s not that. It’s not that at all. I realize now that it’s actually something more like, “Wow, remember how fortunate you are to be able to make that plan.”

The thing about planning is – it is a true luxury, a privilege of the very fortunate.

A plan followed through and seen to fruition? I’d call that an absolutely amazing extravagance.

I suspect that it is rare that we actually take a moment to stop and contemplate the very privilege of being able to make plans. The idea that we can actually conceptualize something we want to happen, happening. The idea that something we want so badly for our child will actually come true. Planning is the modern-day version of luxury. A Chanel bag as luxury? No, not so much, really. You can buy a knock off on Canal Street in New York City for a few hundred dollars and walk around thinking your arm candy says “luxury”. But many of us know that isn’t luxury. I have no idea how to tell a knock-off from the real thing in terms of Chanel bags, but I do know the absolute luxury of being able to make a plan and have all the things one needs in life to make that plan a reality, a goal, an outcome.

I don’t feel sorry for myself because my kid very likely will never go to university. I do admit, I will miss the planning. Yet then I think of how many never have that great privilege to plan something so wonderful as helping a child go to university for reasons far different from mine. Or those for whom a myriad of reasons – poverty, lack of access, lack of knowledge, or constraints related to geography, culture, religion or belief systems – make it difficult or impossible to even engage in that kind of planning. And then there are those who plan, who take that risk to imagine something so great – and have it crushed in a few mere seconds.

This week I was on Queen at Bay and turned my head while on the phone, only to see a cab door open suddenly and a cyclist plow into it. She was thrown off of her bike and over the door – time seemed to stop as she flew through space for a few unreal seconds – landing a few feet away on the sidewalk, with a couple of frightening cracking sounds. One cracking sound was her arm hitting the pavement at an impossible angle – resulting in an obvious compound fracture with a visible bone and plenty of blood. The other crack was her non-helmeted head striking the concrete. The noise still haunts me just a little and I can far too easily recall it by simply closing my eyes and remembering that moment. As a nurse, a cyclist and a fellow human, the sound was seriously bad news. I stayed with her alongside a small crowd until the ambulance came and concluded that she very likely had a moderately serious head injury. She was clearly in shock and among other things she was repeating was the notion that her plans “were gone to s**t now”. She knew her arm was broken and the plans she had made “to go camping” for the weekend simply weren’t going to happen. I knew that, she knew that – even the security guard from The Bay who ran outside to help with a rather less-than-what-might-be-needed-but-well-intentioned first aid kit knew that. I also knew that she had some version of a head injury and that there may be other plans that she now cannot make happen. Of course, hunched over her on a busy downtown sidewalk at dinnertime with my skirt wrapped around my knees and my hand brushing her hair off her face (and that whole thing of not being a neurologist), I was not going to tell her anything remotely like that, but I knew that the chances of her fulfilling every single plan she had made to that day, had somehow changed, even maybe just a little. In a split second, in the mere careless opening of a cab door and a seemingly frivolous decision to not wear a bike helmet. Her plans, as she said, had “gone to s**t”.

For me, I’ve had a long time to adjust to the ‘change in plans’ that Georgia’s trajectory likely requires of me. But I haven’t had a head-cracking-on-concrete moment that has perhaps taken away chances of making plans in a split second. I actually think that if you have a child you take from birth (or thereabouts) to the point of driving them to a residence in a university with admission into a program of study, you’ve really done a wonderful thing – in the very act of it  – and in being able to actually engage in the luxury of making real plans.

While I write this column, I keep hearing lyrics in my head: lyrics of a song I grew up with (and yes, now I’m dating myself – feel free to do the math). In 1979 XTC released a song called “Making Plans for Nigel”. Geeky music websites many years after debated the meaning of the song: some saying that it was a subtly political statement about the Labour Party and the Conservatives and the need to keep workers quietly happy (there’s one reference to “British steel”), but interestingly many other commenters claimed that this song was about parents making plans for their child’s life. Still others say that the song seems to suggest that the parents are making plans for a child with some kind of limitation or disability.

The lyrics (I’ve included most of them below), if we decide to interpret the song this way, seem to suggest something to the effect that the “making plans” part of life is not as important, is insignificant or trivial and that the “making happy” part is truly noteworthy. I’ve thought about this. I agree in part, specifically with the latter part – yes, making Georgia happy is crucial – but I still posit that the privilege and luxury of being able making plans should never be taken for granted.

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We’re only making plans for Nigel 
We only want what’s best for him
We’re only making plans for Nigel
Nigel just needs this helping hand

And if young Nigel says he’s happy 
He must be happy
He must be happy in his work
We’re only making plans for Nigel
Nigel’s whole future is as good as sealed

Nigel is not outspoken
But he likes to speak
And loves to be spoken to
Nigel is happy in his work
We’re only making plans for Nigel

Oh and yes for those of you who now have that song stuck in your head (and I can almost guarantee that you’re born before 1970), here’s a link to XTC on Top of the Pops: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gXNhL4J_S00.

 

2 thoughts on “Making Plans for Georgia

  1. What a poignant reflection. I don’t have children so don’t know the joy – and disappointment – of making plans for and with them, but I am putting the finishing touches on my new career plan. I had been thinking of those plans with excitement, to be sure, but also with frustration. I’d be glad not to have to exert so much energy in this way at this time. But now I see my plans from a different perspective: how fortunate that the resources I need to make these changes are in place, and how bloody wonderful that I get to exercise my brain cells with a new venture. Thank you for that insight.

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