As our son flies away, are my tears for him? Or for our own leaving behind of youth?

·3-min read

Eleven years ago, when we showed our kids some of the world, we gave each of them a travel journal in which to document it. The daughter made note of the Colosseum in a rare entry: “it looks a bit wrecked.”

The son wrote on day one of Hollywood (It was lots of fun), on day two of Disneyland (I LOVED Disneyland a lot) and then that was it, until he added a beautiful drawing of an Italian coastal tree at the end of the trip (19/4/11 The Tree the tree the tree) and we were on our way home.

Last month that boy left on his own overseas trip. And I was left slightly bereft and unhinged, as many parents might be when the first of their children, held so close to home during the pandemic over the last two and half of their very formative young adult years, takes off.

Fly away, young man, fly away.

Oh, there had been passport dramas: queues and phone calls, six to seven weeks of patient waiting and then the frenzy, the unanswered calls to Dfat, the lining up, the payment for fast-tracking, the sense of time running out.

There was a family Covid case, necessitating him moving into an empty apartment and leaving from there without hugging his dad goodbye.

There was the Australian “international” Covid vax certificate that actually isn’t accepted, it seems, in parts of the EU, necessitating last-minute downloads and QR codes and submissions and emails, all while the last of the bag was packed and the shirts discarded and the sandals thrown in and, and what of his old travel diary?

Well, after putting it in his bag, he decided not to take it.

But I pushed the spiral-bound notebook on him, handing him a pen, pressing the journal into the side slot of his bag, saying, go on, you can document where you had the best beer in Greece, paste the label in, write which mate you were with and under what sort of tree.

Will he do that? Maybe not. But I like to see the image in my mind of this kind of travel – its moments of contemplation, of waiting, of hanging out, sitting in the shade by the sea, and I like to think he might stick in a docket, or a restaurant card, or a train ticket, as I did and his father did when we travelled when we were young.

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Is it for that that I have a little weep as he leaves for the airport – the memories, the time shift, our leaving behind of youth and their living of it? Is it the bittersweet beauty of knowing they can now drink it in and see new things after the years of lockdown? That they can take a train ride or a boat trip, or eat in a taverna on a rocky shore, or take a dip off a small yacht or motorboat, or walk clifftop paths, or meet other young people of the world and see the magnificence of humans and nature, and know that the world is bigger than a 5km radius that held them tight as they turned 18 in a pandemic and they wondered what this world was that they had entered as an “adult”.

Or is it just a moment of missing him before letting him go?

The entries in his little 2011 journal were short and of both days he wrote:

It was fun.

I hope he has many fun days. Back home, I am beginning to research villas on a coast somewhere, in the hope that we can also fly away soon. Perhaps we can join him, and buy him a beer under the shade of a blooming coastal tree. That sure would be fun.

• Anna Sublet is a freelance writer