If you've ever heard me tell stories or seen me with my family, you know I'm adopted. It's not something that I hide or am ashamed of. Actually, I'm pretty fucking lucky, really. And my folks will always be mom and dad. I've never met my biological family, and I suspect I never will.
An interesting tidbit about them is that I'm totally a whoopsie-baby. My mom was 21, petite, had some college education, and didn't tell a soul she was pregnant with me. She was also adopted, but her adoption was completed in Germany, so the chances I'll find my genetic roots on her side are next to nothing. She worked on a highway road crew the summer before I was born. As such, and due to my related early childhood health issues, I'm pretty sure the prenatal care I got was pretty minimal. Call it a hunch. What I know about my father is that he was about the same age, tall, slender, had some college education and "was in a band of some sort". . . .
I am so the product of some woman with a backstage pass and a bucket list to attend to. And you know what? I'm proud of her for it. Go Birth Mom! Get yourself some famous booty. That said, if I sound like (or even look like, if you know me) anybody famous that might have been in their early 20s and touring the midwest in the early parts of 1977, call me. I'm curious.
Needless to say, I've always had at least one thing going for me that made me a standout against a backdrop of the typical American lifestyle. I was, as we've established, adopted as an infant. I think I was something like 2 months old when my parents got a call from the Nebraska Children's Home Society asking if they'd like a little baby girl. Thrilled, they asked when they could expect me. To which, I believe they were told "Oh, how's tomorrow work for you?". I'm not making this up when I say that because of that phone call, my parents were late to the opera, and my Nana and Poppy learned they were going to be grandparents to the opening strains of La Traviata. (I keep telling people, it's not just a phase. I've always been one to make an entrance.)
Speaking of opera, let's just throw this out on the table early. There's no sense dancing around it. My folks were loaded. I grew up a millionaire's kid. Seriously, most kids ask for a pony knowing they'll never get one. I was the brat that did. For my 12th birthday, because he hated the place so much, instead of taking me and my 50 closest friends to Chuck-E-Cheese, my dad took the whole family to Disneyland. I have stomped on the keyboard that you see in Big at FAO Schwatrz. I had the in ground pool, the billiards table, and the big screen TV growing up. I always had the parties at my house since we had all the cool stuff. (As an aside, this always made me suspicious about people's motivations for hanging around me and it persists to this day.)
My family is also Jewish. My dad brought it to the marriage and my mom converted. Now, any of you who have met a converted Jew, they tend to take it all VERY seriously. The rest of us could give a shit. Ok, well the reform Jews I know, that is. I keep expecting to come across her copy of "Being a Jewish Mother for Dummies" and finding all the highlighting. *cough* As such, I was enrolled in Hebrew School; the Wednesday after school and Saturday morning, cartoon ruining, scourge of twice weekly religious education.
This is also the part where I tell you that I grew up in Ponca Hills. This is north of north Omaha, which has a reputation for being a rougher part of town. So, of course my peers in Hebrew school looked down at me for that. How could that mean I came from anywhere but the ghetto? I didn't go to their schools. They've never been to my 'hood. We fear and shame what we don't understand.
Also, because I lived so far from temple, I was always late getting to class, so none of my peers saw me pull up in the only Sterling (My folks, the hipsters. Having an Acura was too common, I guess.) in town, or dad's Porsche. Their misconceptions and intolerance meant I was teased and bullied mercilessly. I was that kid who you had to invite to the bat mitzfa parties because you had to at least appear all inclusive to the whole class. No, I didn't eat glue or pick my nose. I was just different. This treatment, in looking back, I guess is what made me so open minded and slow to judge someone based on first impressions. But, that's neither here nor there.
Once, when cornered by a pack of tweens in the ladies room off the sanctuary, the leader of the pack decided they were willing to offer me a token of acceptance, I could be their Omega wolf. Surrounded by her sneering cronies, she told me that if I brought in a photo of my house, my room, and told them how much my daddy made a year, I'd have a shot at being in their crew. Alright, let's play this game.
The next weekend, I produced the goods. Bam! I literally threw the photos onto the orange velvet chaise lounger in the powder room and listened to them ooh and ahhh. My house was easily twice the size of any of theirs. Hell, the living room alone was larger than the first house I'd later buy! Apparently, the fact that I was 10 and had a queen sized bed was a big deal, as was having a bedroom the size I did. My window boxes for reading were a big hit. After hearing about how my family owned a local paint company (Seriously, my damned last name was a part of the business name. 2+2 is not hard math people.) and that my dad had a sports car, I was suddenly eligible to be a little higher than the Omega. I was almost cool. I was acceptable. And I didn't give a damn.
I wish I could tell you that I had some snappy retort. I didn't. I was so mad at them for needing those materialistic confirmations of my worth that I think I actually might have been shaking. In effect, I told them to blow it out their ass, and walked away. That was unheard of. How DARE the outcast snub the olive branch from the popular kids?! I didn't need them, that's how dare I.
It wasn't long after that event that we all started our studies for that great event in every Jewish kid's life, the Bat Mitzfa. I resisted, I wanted no part of it. Sure, I was physically in class, but my mind was never in the book. I took the tapes that the Rabi recorded of my section of the Torah I was supposed to read and recorded over them with songs from the radio I liked. Hey, he was giving them away, why not? I resented my religion and my peers and wanted nothing to do with it. I blew off all my studies until the very last minute. My parents took me aside and told me I needed to get on the ball. At that point, I told them I wasn't going to go through it. I wasn't Jewish, I just spent time in the synagogue a couple times a week. They argued that, later in life, I'd regret it. That my cousin who didn't have one either did and I would too. Seeing as how this wasn't a spur of the moment decision, that I'd been gunning for this since the topic came up a year ago, I laughed at their argument. "No," I told them, "I really won't." We argued, they cajoled, I refused.
In the end, my Bat Mitzfa was a peace treaty, an accord if you will. We agreed I would spend the next two months cramming and go through with it *for their sake* (I was adamant that I wanted nothing to do with this.). In return, I would never have to set foot in synagogue for anything other than weddings and funerals. I would become, in effect, an invitation only Jew. Not a bad negotiation deal for a 12 year old.
You'll love this. As a last hurrah, a final nose thumbing to my peers, rather than holding my Bat Mitzfa party at the same country club everybody else did, mine was in North Omaha, at a BBQ joint. Sure, we made certain to tell the kitchen that all the ribs had to be beef and all. But, I still remember the looks of unease around the room as people picked at their meals until they realized there was no pork on the plate. Always keep 'em guessing, off their balance, and wondering what you're gonna do next. Like serving bacon to a room full of Jews.