Morning trains and empty nests

It’s seven am of a glorious summer day and I’m catching the train on my way to a work meeting in the North.

As I sit at the window I notice that two young girls – around thirteen and eleven, are trying to accommodate their heavy bags in the luggage compartment, the elder taking care of things while the younger helps.

Then I hear some havoc outside the window and when I look I see a couple, their parents for certain, who enthusiastically wave goodbye. They jump, they smile, and try to get their daughters’ attention, while the girls look slightly uncomfortable with this show of affection and timidly wave back.

The parents look very nice. They are clearly cheerful while seeing their daughters off but at the same time I can feel that uneasiness that all of us parents feel when our children go away, wherever they go. Of course if they go to a place far away it’ s much worse. As much as I have been apart from my boys on many occasions, I remember feeling somewhat uneasy last year when I took Afonso to the airport to board a low cost flight to Brussels where he and two of his best friends were catching the train for their interail holidays ( yes, it takes trains a long time to cross Spain!). As I kissed and hugged him goodbye he was also a little impatient. Like the two young girls – secretly hoping that I would not get too emotional. After all, a tearful mother is always embarrassing….

I suppose such is life. I love the fact that my boys have grown up and are increasingly independent. I love them to make the most of their holidays and they both have a fantastic group of friends that I’ve known for a long time, and with whom they do everything and go everywhere. As time goes by, and they get older – and hopefully wiser – it gets easier to see them go away for a few days. I remember the first time Pedro, then sixteen, spent New Year’s Eve at a rented house with his friends, the condition for him to go was that he should send a “proof of life” message every three hours so that I might be sure all was going smoothly. And he obligingly did so, I must say, earning the right to further escapades such as that one…

And summer is when our children mostly leave the “nest”. Afonso has just arrived from two weeks on the Azores at his girlfriend’s family home. Pedro will leave next week for “MEO Sudoeste“, a huge event on the coast of Alentejo that includes six days camping and concerts in the evening. He already went last year and came back safe and sound even if slimmer and with dark circles under his eyes, so I hope this year it will be very much the same. And, farthest from all is João, my son Afonso’s great friend, who is traveling in the Southeast of Asia for a month and a half, and even if my friend Filipa, his mother, has faced this trip with a brave smile, I know that deep down she is praying that all goes well and looking forward to the moment when he comes back and she can finally sigh in relief that her boy has come home.

In rational terms we parents love to see our children “fly”; after all isn’t it what we are raising them for? From the moment they are born we know they are not ours, they belong to themselves, we are here just to love and nurture them and help them find their way in life. But  parents are quite irrational too – we have an animal feeling of protection of our brood, a feeling that, no matter how tall and heavy and big footed they are, how good it would be if we could still pick them up and hold them against our chest and protect them from all dangers that might befall them….it’s no use fighting this, it will be there for the rest of our lives, no matter how old and wise our children are.

And as summer goes by and flocks of young people leave their homes on holidays, I pray they may all return safe and sound. In a few weeks I’ll also be reunited with mine for our holidays at our beach apartment. Not that I will see them too much, as their schedule is “slightly” different from mine – but just to know they are around, or sleeping in the rooms next to mine, makes me feel so happy…that feeling that young birds are in their mother’s nest, where I would like to keep them for a little while longer. And when they finally have their own nest, they will always know their mother’s will keep their place, for I will be always be there for them when they need me.

On the train, I look at the girls by my side. The elder is sleeping peacefully with an open book on her lap. The younger is looking outside the window. They seem happy, well balanced girls. They certainly have loving parents. What else could they be, I think, as I remember seeing them start running after the train when it began moving, still waving and saying goodbye in such a loving way that I was moved – and inspired to write about young people’s summer trips and loving parents’ empty nests – even if in their case and in mine, the nests are only temporarily empty, as soon our children will  be coming home to us.

How welcome they will be. And the nests, now utterly silent,  will come alive again.