Meiko, who turns 21 this summer, hardly comes home anymore. I use her bedroom as my yoga practice room, gazing at photos of her high school friends, and magazine cutouts of Aragorn, Arwen, and Captain Jack Sparrow as I do Half Moon pose. Her bedroom has taken on a museum-like, archival quality, a shrine to Meiko's adolescence.
She didn't come home over spring break, because we thought we'd take a family drive to New York where she attends Barnard College, but scrapped the idea when too many schedule conflicts arose. She came home briefly during the winter break, but went back after New Year's to help with a research project on the homeless and to take a couple of bartending and babysitting gigs.
I miss her and long to sit down with her for a leisurely supper and conversation, but those days may be over for a while. When she calls me, she's on her mobile, walking to the grocery store or waiting for an appointment. As soon as it's her turn in the check-out line, or her friend arrives, it's "Gotta go, love you, Mom" and her phone snaps closed.
I download her electronica show on the college's radio station to keep up with her and her musical tastes, and just to hear her voice. She airs at midnight on Saturdays, too late for me to stay up and listen online. She's introduced me to Regina Spektor and Beirut, and one of her musical guests says the South Bronx is the new Williamsburg. Her radio persona is worldly and ironic as she introduces obscure bands from the former Eastern bloc.
Who can blame her for preferring her sublet in Bushwick to her boring Milwaukee bedroom? "Four months in Milwaukee is too long," she said, arguing her case to stay in New York City over the summer. She missed her college friends, and the hubbub of city life
How long can someone keep hanging out with their high school friends anyway? The first summer after freshman year everyone is thrilled to reunite, compare notes, and hang out without the burden of a high school curfew. The second summer, the high school gang differentiates. One girl is leaving in August for a semester in Spain, another is doing an internship in India, one is working as a cocktail waitress and appointing her apartment a la Pottery Barn
I remember that awkward period as I grew away from my high school friends. As Meiko puts it, her high school friends don't talk about books as much as her college friends. I remember conversing differently with my high school friends than my college friends, practicing a sort of bilingualism. The high school syntax and diction were more straightforward and casual, sometimes cozy; the conversations with college friends waxed poetic and sardonic, sometimes pretentious.
A friend tells me she wishes she had "cool parents" like us when she went off to college. They didn't even want her to leave their hometown for Milwaukee, 20 miles away, and she had to forge their signatures to get into university housing. Her parents told her, "You don't love us if you want to leave home." She had to fight for every inch of her independence, although now that she has a baby she appreciates the closeness of extended family.
As much as we miss her, it's just as well that Meiko's on her own. When she's home, she's like a dog too big for a house. She takes up disproportionate space, the contents of her suitcase burst out and fill her room, and she's always on the phone. She stays out all hours, and we can't keep track of her comings and goings
But at the same time, we all welcome her back, vying for her attention. As the oldest, she straddles the worlds of adulthood and childhood and feels equally comfortable in each sphere. I love to talk books and arts with Meiko. We make movie recommendations to each other, or talk about particularly intriguing dishes we've eaten. My husband talks to her about everything from baseball to politics to how to roast a chicken. For Katja, she's a confidante and mentor. For Malachi, she's the hipster older sister who gives him a Matisyahu CD before he hits MTV.
Remember those days of snuggling and oneness, when you and your babe were inseparable? Especially when my kids were little, I felt like I was living with great works of art: surprising, inspiring, evolving, sublime works of art. Each new word, each new development was a wonder. As they grow older, they remain sublime, but their development is more inward, and we don't get to witness it daily.
I haven't seen Meiko's Brooklyn sublet, didn't help her move. She just bought a second-hand bike, and although I don't know her neighborhood, I can picture the wind blowing through her hair as she gets around on her own. The girl's got wheels. This weekend I'm visiting her. And I'm bringing her a helmet and bike lock.