Monthly Archives: December 2012

A Real Nail Biter

Everybody has some bad habit that they’ve been trying to break forever and just can’t manage to kick. For me, it’s been nail-biting.

I’ve been doing it ever since I was a kid, and I’ve actually tried everything to get myself to stop. Some things I even tried twice or more times throughout the years, but nothing stuck. Half the time I wasn’t even aware that I was biting my nails – it was just something I did subconsciously. Here’s a pretty comprehensive list of things I tried to get myself to stop:

  • Getting a manicure. Someone thought that if my nails looked so pretty, I wouldn’t bite them. Problem was that my nails didn’t look pretty. They were still ugly and short, only colored now.
  • Applying fake nails. Someone thought that if my fingers looked pretty, I wouldn’t bite them. Also, fake nails are made of plastic. Didn’t matter though. Half the time I wouldn’t look at my nails when I bit them. As for the plastic… well, that didn’t stop me either.
  • Keeping an emery board on hand always. It didn’t matter. Biting off a bit of nail was still more efficient that fishing around in my pocket for the file.
  • Wearing gloves 24/7. I actually bit a hole in the tip of one of my glove’s fingers trying to gain access to my fingernail.
  • Applying bitter-tasting nail polish to my nails. All it succeeded in doing was giving me a permanently nasty taste in my mouth.
  • Getting therapy on the grounds that maybe it was a nervous habit, and that if I solved all my problems, I’d have nothing to be nervous about. After two pointless sessions, I concluded that it wasn’t a nervous habit and no therapist was going to cure me of my nail-biting ways.
  • Asking my friends to point out when I’m biting my nails. It just got annoying to hear, and I’d bite my nails anyway.
  • Self-hypnosis. My teacher recommended that I talk to myself for five minutes every morning right after I wake up and for five minutes every night right before I go to sleep, repeating over and over again that I am in control, I am a strong woman, and that I will not bite my nails. I did this for about a week. Then I realized that I was talking to myself on a daily basis. Feeling like a crazy person, I stopped the hypnosis.
  • Chewing gum, the theory being if I had gum in my mouth, my fingers couldn’t be in there as well. Naturally, though, I couldn’t chew gum 24/7, so my fingers just waited until there was a vacancy in my mouth.
  • Flicking my wrists with rubber bands any time I caught myself biting my nails or thinking about biting my nails. This method actually worked for two weeks, at which point my wrists were so swollen, I just couldn’t bear continuing with the method.
  • Putting five cents in a jar every time I caught myself biting my nails or thinking about biting my nails – the money accumulated to later be donated to a cause which I oppose. Unfortunately, the only organization I could think of that would be enough of a deterrent for me to stop biting my nails was the PLO, and I wasn’t about to put the fate of the Jewish people in my nails.
  • Summoning enough will power to just stop. Needless to say I tried this method many a time. The closest it came to working was right before my wedding. I was determined to have beautiful nails for the close-up picture of my husband placing the ring on my finger. It actually worked for the most part – my nails grew more than they ever had. Of course I then had to go and bite just one fingernail, and of course it was the finger receiving the ring. I’ve got a nice blown up picture of that fiasco in my wedding album.

Bottom line: I tried it all. By this time last year I decided I needed a break from trying to stop – the whole thing was stressing me out too much.

Well, it’s amazing what a terrible first trimester of pregnancy can do for a woman. For three whole months I couldn’t put anything in my mouth. Usually this is just limited to food, drink and prenatal pills, but in my case it meant my nails too. By the time my second trimester started, my nails were stronger and more beautiful than they’d ever been in my life. Concerned that I might revert to my old ways once I could eat food again, I began applying the bitter nail polish that didn’t work for me many times before. Well, it’s been eight full months since I last bit my nails. I’ve never clipped or filed my nails so many times. I even got my first decent-looking professional manicure a couple of weeks ago for my sister-in-law’s wedding!

Who knew? Morning sickness was good for something after all!

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National Security 2

In a previous post, National Security, I wrote about my adventures with the TSA full-body scan that they’ve implemented in American airports. At the time the I wrote that post, they were still fairly new. Now, a few years later, people have gotten used to them. The public may still be unhappy with them overall, but the uproar has died down a lot.

So, what more could I have to say about them (and airport security in general)? Well, flying while eight and a half months pregnant sort of changes things.

Firstly, it’s not recommended for pregnant women to go through these full-body scanners. They work similarly to x-ray machines, and if getting your jaw x-rayed at the dentist while you’re pregnant is problematic, then this should also be (although extensive research has never been done – pregnant women tend not to like being guinea pigs). When my turn came and they asked me to step up to the machine, I simply pointed out my belly and let them know that I’m not going through it. After about five minutes of trying to understand what the TSA officer (who had a stutter on top of his really thick foreign accent) was saying, they finally put me through a regular metal detector. (I didn’t even get the full-body pat down that’s the regular alternative for the body scanner!)

As I was putting my shoes back on, I overheard one TSA officer telling another officer that earlier that night a pregnant woman went through the machine. The officer had wanted to say something to her – that it’s not recommended for pregnant women to go through it – but since she hadn’t blatantly said she was pregnant, the officer didn’t want to risk insulting her by calling her “fat.” Who knew? TSA officers can be gentlemen too.

Anyway, after I passed the scanner, my carry-on bag had to be scanned too. I was a bit confused when they asked me if I had anything in my bag that they should know about. After all, I don’t make it a habit of traveling with machetes. Then I realized they were probably talking about my water bottle. In case you’re not aware, pregnant women are supposed to drink… a lot. For the last eight months I haven’t gone anywhere without my water bottle. Naturally, I was not looking forward to parting with it over the silly rule that you can’t bring liquids with you onto the plane. The following is roughly the conversation that ensued:

TSA Officer: Excuse me Ma’am, is there anything in your personal bag that you’d like to tell us about?

Me: (confused, lengthy pause) Oh! My water bottle!

TSA Officer: (Taking my water bottle out of my bag) Ma’am, you are aware that liquids are not allowed on the plane.

Me: Yes, yes, of course, but can’t I hold onto it up until boarding?

TSA Officer: You can drink it now, if you’d like. You’re allowed to take an empty bottle with you past this point.

Me: (Looking warily at the full bottle in front of me) I won’t be able to finish the entire bottle right here and now. Can I drink half of it and save the rest?

TSA Officer: I’m sorry Ma’am, but you can only take the bottle with you past this point if it’s completely empty. You can either drink the whole thing now and go back through the scanner (???!!!) or we can confiscate it.

Lengthy silent pause, during which time I look imploringly at the officer, clearly letting my troubles show on my face. Finally, after an exceedingly long and uncomfortable silence…

TSA Officer: (Dropping the tough guy act) Well, can you think of a medical reason why you’d need to take it with you?

Me: I’m almost nine months pregnant?

Officer smiles and nods, then takes my bottle in hand and walks away, returning a minute or two later and returns the bottle to my bag.

TSA Officer: We checked the contents of your bottle. You’re free to take it with you onto the plane. Have a nice flight!

And that is how I manipulated airport security. (For the second time that night, actually. The first time was when I managed to persuade the manager of the airline to let me take the stroller we’d purchased in America on the plane for free rather than have it counted as an extra piece of luggage that would cost more, as is airline policy regarding strollers when you aren’t traveling with a kid. All I had to do was offer to let her put her hands on my pregnant belly to feel the baby kicking, which she thankfully declined. Ah, the things we do to save some money.)


Homeward Bound

The story goes that one morning while my mom was trying to dress three-year-old me, I threw a tantrum and exclaimed, “Mommy! If you don’t let me dress myself, I won’t take you with me when I move to Israel!” That got my mom to stop. Mismatched clothing or not, there was no way she was going to risk me holding to my declaration. I don’t think I really knew what I was saying. My daycare was run by an Israeli, but I really knew nothing about Israel.

I went to Israel for the first time when I was nine years old for the occasion of my brother’s bar mitzvah. I was probably too young to really appreciate the significance of being in Israel, but the trip stood out in my mind as a fun and memorable vacation, during which time we toured the country top-to-bottom over a two-week period.

When I was ten years old, I spent my first summer in a religious Zionist sleep-away camp. I remember walking to my bunk one morning after an activity when all of a sudden I head a whispering voice from up above saying, “Make aliyah, make aliyah!” (“aliyah” being the Hebrew word for literally “going up,” or moving to Israel). I shrugged, thought to myself, “Ok, G-d,” and continued on my way. I didn’t find out until years later that I had been standing under a loudspeaker, and that some counselors in this camp got their kicks from “brainwashing” of that nature. Well, it worked for me. I didn’t know why I wanted to, but I was determined to move to Israel when I was older.

When I was fifteen, I was offered the opportunity to spend the summer living in Jerusalem with an Israeli friend of mine and her family. It was a unique experience – spending time with Israeli kids my age, doing whatever they do to pass the days of the hot, Israeli summer. It was my first exposure to really living in Israel, as opposed to just being a tourist there. That was the summer of the Sbarro pizzeria suicide bombing in Jerusalem. It was a ten minute bus ride from my friend’s house, and as most of her friends were home for the summer, we spent the entire afternoon calling friends, making sure that everyone we knew was ok.

The next summer would forever be the summer that changed my life. Up until then, I had visited Israel twice and openly declared my intentions to make aliyah some day, but I still didn’t have a reason why it was so important to me. When I was sixteen, I went on the five and a half week Bnei Akiva summer program known as Mach Hach Ba’Aretz. It was during those five and a half weeks that I developed an unquestionable love for the land, her people, her history and her existence. It was five and a half weeks of traveling around the country, going to museums, hiking through streams and deserts, interacting with Israelis, volunteering on an army base, learning Hebrew slang, eating Israeli food, and loving every second of my being here. Leaving Israel after those five and a half weeks was the hardest thing I’d ever faced up until that point in my life.

I didn’t return to Israel until I was eighteen. I graduated high school and decided to take a gap year in Israel to study in seminary before returning to America to continue with my college education. I had already applied and been accepted to my dream college, deferring for the one year. I had every intention of spending one year in Israel, returning to America to get my college degree, and only then making aliyah as soon as those four years were completed. As I stood in the airport with my mom before leaving for the year, I jokingly said to her, “If leaving Israel after five and a half weeks was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, I don’t know how I’m going to come back after spending a whole year there.” I said this jokingly, but there was a large-sized grain of truth in it. Sure enough, a few weeks in to the program, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to leave. I sent an email to my parents asking their permission to stay. They said no. I spent the next three months researching the aliyah process, learning about the benefits I’d receive from both private organizations and the Israeli government. I researched the higher education institutions in Israel. I formed a well-informed plan of action, all the time keeping my parents updated on my research. I was driven. And finally, on the fourth night of Chanukah, my parents gave me the ok.

Exactly one year later, on the fourth night of Chanukah, I boarded a plane to take me home. I made aliyah on a Nefesh B’Nefesh group flight, along with well over two hundred new immigrants.

My mom came to see me off at the airport. She came with me up to the point where non-passengers can go no further. We said our heartfelt goodbyes, knowing full well that I’d be back half a year later in the summer to visit, and then we parted. Ten seconds later my mom came running after me crying, “I was a good mom! I let you choose your own clothes! You said you’d take me with you!” That broke me. We cried and hugged, and I reassured her that a large part of her was indeed making aliyah with me that day, and that I’d be waiting in Israel with open arms when she does finally make the move herself.

Before take-off, Nefesh B’Nefesh hosted a good-bye ceremony. As nightfall had come by then, we had a group Chanukah candle lighting in the airport. Together we sang the songs, lit the candles and recited the blessings:

“.ברוך אתה ה’ אלוקינו מלך העולם שעשה ניסים לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה”

“Blessed are you, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time.”

And what a miracle being performed for me, in these days at this time – returning to my ancestral homeland, having an ancestral homeland to return to after two thousand years in exile.

And so, every year over Chanukah I have a little bit more to celebrate and a little bit more to be grateful for: To Hashem, for giving us a home to return to, and to my parents for letting me return to it.

Happy Chanukah!


Tail Spin

Pregnant women are known to have frequent mood swings. Me? I turn into a crazy woman.

I thought it was as bad as it would get when, after watching Titanic, I called my husband at work and crying into the phone made him promise me not to drown in the Arctic after hitting an iceberg, or after watching Pearl Harbor, made him promise me not to die after surviving a plane crash only to get shot down by enemies (or, I hate to say it, after watching Zoolander, made him promise me not to die in a freak gasoline fight accident).

And while I did have plenty of crazy lady moments (still do?), I think none illustrates how bad I got better than this story:

I woke up late one morning towards the end of my first trimester and found that I needed to go to the bathroom. As I put my feet down on the floor, a little lizard shot out between my feet from under the bed and froze in place a few inches away. I knew I had to act fast if I was going to catch it. Looking around, the only thing I could find to trap it in was an opaque bedside garbage bucket. Using my lightning fast reflexes I trapped the little lizard under the bucket and breathed a sigh of relief. Not wanting to over exert myself in my delicate state, I decided I’d leave the bucket there for my husband to deal with when he came home from work. But then I realized that it would be hours before he’d be home, and the poor, little lizard (PLL) would probably suffocate and die from heat before then.

And so I began the trek from the far side of the bedroom towards the front door. Normally, I’d try to slip a piece of paper underneath and lift the trapped animal – as one would do with a spider or other insect. But a bucket’s too big and a lizard too heavy, so suffice to simply slide the upside-down bucket along the floor. I made it all the way to the bedroom door when a strange thing happened. I noticed something dark and thin sticking out from under the back edge of the bucket’s lip. I didn’t know what it was, so I continued pushing the bucket another inch. And that’s when it happened. This little black string started flopping around on the floor, disconnected from anything else.

It took me a second to realize what it was. You see, lizards, as a defense mechanism, will drop their tails when being chased by a predator. The tail, similar to a chicken with its head cut off, will continue moving without the rest of the lizard’s body, so as to distract the predator while the lizard escapes to safety. (And like starfish, the lizard’s tail will regenerate over time.)

I felt terrible that I had scared PLL into dropping his tail, but the sight of said tail flopping around and twitching on its own creeped me out so much that I ran back into bed and hid there, despite still needing to go to the bathroom, for the next half hour – 45 minutes until the tail stopped twitching entirely. Finally, I left the bed again and tiptoed over to the bedroom door, scared that I would reawaken the tail, and escaped to the bathroom.

I’d have happily stopped there, except I had caused PLL to suffer enough for a lifetime, and I didn’t want to shorted that lifetime by having him suffocate under the bucket, so I resumed my pushing. Halfway between the bedroom and the front door it occurred to me that a long time had passed and PLL might have escaped while I wasn’t looking. So I lifted up the opaque bucket to check on him. There he was. And sure enough, as soon as I lifted the bucket, he tried to make a run for it. Except unlike before, when he moved lightning fast, he was now moving slowly and oddly. I took a closer look a noticed that he was missing a front hand! The poor guy! Did I accidentally chop it off while moving the bucket? Did he bite it off to try to escape? Either way, I felt terrible. I ruined this poor lizard’s life single-handed, all in the name of saving its life.

But I couldn’t give up. Using the bucket as a guide, I nudged the lizard in the direction of the front door. Finally, I got him outside, and with a sigh of relief I climbed back into bed.

A few hours later I once again needed the bathroom. I tiptoed around the dropped tail in the bedroom doorway (I’d have my husband take care of that later), and made it a few steps into the next room and stopped short. There he was – PLL – no more than a foot in front of where I stood. Not only had I physically traumatized the poor guy, but I evidently caused some major brain damage as well, to cause him to return to the scene of his torture! I didn’t know what to do, so naturally, I lost it. I tossed the bucket back over him (my husband would be home in an hour, and I figured it would take longer than that for PLL to suffocate, and I couldn’t risk causing him more distress) and ran back to bed where I promptly began howling like a crazy woman.

I don’t remember much about how the next hour passed. I remember playing scenarios in my head where PLL was finally set free and he rejoined his other little lizard friends, only to have them mock him for his deformities and exclude him from group activities. PLL would forever be an outcast, forced to live alone, devoid of companionship. And it was all my fault. I was a monster.

Somehow the hour passed and my husband walked in the front door to find me wailing as if my favorite relative had just died. I was hysterical. I could barely form the words to tell him what had happened. Finally he calmed me down and extracted PLL to a nice grassy spot far away from our apartment, never to be seen again.

For the next week (or was it a month?) anytime someone mentioned a lizard, my lip would start quivering and my eyes would well up.

I’m a bit better now, although I still feel terrible for what I did to PLL. I hope he’s managed to move on, wherever he is.

And the moral of the story is: hormones are weird.