Jana Banin is a freelance magazine writer and blogger. Her work has appeared in Parents, Time Out New York Kids, Ladies Home Journal, Parenting, Babytalk, Marie Claire, and other publications. Before writing mostly about little kids she wrote mostly about teenagers, working as an editor at both ym and Seventeen magazines. Jana lives in Brooklyn with her husband and three kids. She is currently writing a memoir about raising a child with autism.
Typical parents are rarely surprised when I tell them Benjamin goes to sleepaway camp--at least not after I clarify that it’s a camp catering specifically to children with special…needs. “It’s really structured,” I’ll explain. “Lots of staff members have special ed degrees and work in the field during the year, and there’s a really high counselor-to-camper ratio.” While the special ed speak convinces most people (or bores them into believing) that I know exactly what I’m talking about, there is one population I’m… >> Read More
“I want Shabbat,” my son Benjamin proclaimed on a recent Saturday afternoon as the guests we’d invited over for lunch milled about the house. I looked up from the salad I was throwing…together, certain I'd misunderstood him. Shabbat is something we do every week in our house, yet something Benjamin, now 10 years old, had never once acknowledged. But then he said it again. Benjamin has autism, and with his variation of the disorder comes serious language impairments that make it insanely difficult for him to do… >> Read More
This post is part of our month-long series featuring different ways that parents of various religions have talked to their kids about God.
“I want to try bacon,” my 7-year-old son Zack…declared the other night. “Well, bacon, like, really isn’t kosher,” I said tentatively, always careful of giving him the kind of “because Hashem said so” answer my Yeshiva-educated husband learned to resent early on. “I don’t care,” he reassured me. “So can I try it?” Crap. I was floundering. “Hashem said no bacon. It’s in the Torah… >> Read More
Every year around this time I come down with an acute form of memory loss. I call it Passover Brain. With just two weeks to go before the first Seder, the panic sets in and suddenly it's as if I'm…observing the holiday for the very first time. Where did I store the seder plate? How do I get those crumbs out from way underneath the oven? Does anyone make haroset safe for my nut-allergic kids? And why--why--is the only thing in my "Pesach" folder a 3-year-old shopping list? The biggest missing piece, though, has… >> Read More
The upside of your autistic 9-year-old making crazy massive gains? Obvious, I hope.
The downside? Realizing that one day in the not-so-distant future, when he's made even more progress, you might…get called out on all the crap you said and did when you thought he wasn't tuned in--and when he wasn't good enough at talking to tell you to shut up and quit it already. So in the spirit of teshuvah (repentance), specifically the custom of making amends during the High Holidays, I have begun… >> Read More
On the last day of his after-school tennis program, my 6-year-old came home with a trophy.
"Wow Zack, I'm so proud of you!" I said.
"Why? Everyone got one." His blasé tone shifted immediately and…somewhat manically to intense excitement. "Oh yeah! Oh yeah!" Zack chanted as he pumped the trophy overhead, just like he'd seen a classmate do at his recent reading awards ceremony. While Zack is smart enough to be slightly suspicious of the "We're All Winners!" ruse, he's still young enough for it to totally work on… >> Read More
Raising a child with autism comes with a lot of crap. I’m not talking about the stares from strangers, the battles with insurance companies and school boards, or even the underlying, ever-present…stress of wondering what my son’s future will look like. That’s all part of it, of course. But the crap I speak of today is of the tangible, dust-collecting variety. What can I say? Autism takes up a lot of freaking space. There are the binders of therapist-recorded data, the pendaflex folders filled with evaluations… >> Read More
I was recently dumped. It’s the first time in years I've gone through a breakup, but it turns out I’m handling it exactly the same way I would have back in the day.
Namely, I’ve been driving…around, blasting melodramatic music (now its Adele instead of Tiffany or Joe Jackson or the Smiths or whoever made me weepy at the time, but same difference), rehashing the details in an effort to figure out what wrong, and web stalking the other woman. Yep, there was another woman. And, according to Facebook, she is… >> Read More
Over the summer we moved from Brownstone Brooklyn to suburban Florida. While our three children are thrilled about year-round pool and playground access (which actually is pretty awesome), for me…it’s been a rough transition. I miss my friends. I miss my kids’ friends. I miss my kids’ schools. I miss the front porch of our 100-year old house. I miss being able to walk a few hundred feet to get a coffee, a light bulb, or a manicure. So yes, I complain about our… >> Read More
My son Zack was 2 when his big brother noticed him for the first time. One minute we were all hanging out on the couch in our pajamas; the next Benjamin was on top of Zack, giving him a bear hug.…Every couple of minutes he’d get up, only to pounce on the little guy again seconds later. The whole time (and it went on for quite a while) my husband and I sat there speechless, shocked and amazed and choked up by the sight of our autistic (and therefore seriously socially delayed) 4-year-old finally showing… >> Read More
The minute I walked into my son Zack’s school Hanukkah party I began tallying the ways in which it was poorly suited for an autistic kid. My autistic kid, anyway.
Obstacle number one for Benjamin,…Zack’s big brother: The table at the entrance, full of shiny made-in-China Hanukkah paraphernalia which Benjamin immediately started groping, much to the dismay of the bubbes from the affiliated synagogue hawking the stuff. Right after that I carefully steered my sugar-obsessed and impulse control-challenged child past the very tempting and very open cups of icing… >> Read More
I’ve been thinking a lot about Rosh Hashanah during the last couple of weeks. First, in an out-of-character burst of preparedness, I made and froze a kugel and a tray of oatmeal date bars. Then, in…an out-of-character burst of craftiness I sat down with my kids and did the Rosh Hashanah-themed sand art project the elderly women outside my son Zack’s school guilted me into buy. And yesterday, Zack came home with a book on apples he chose because he’s had the holiday on his mind. So yes, we've been in the… >> Read More
We recently moved to Florida from Brooklyn. I grew up down here, so coming back shouldn’t feel like such a major adjustment. But it does, and I’m guessing that’s because all of my parenting…experience up until now has been in New York, and I spend a good 80 percent of my time parenting these days. I’ve been trying really hard not to focus on the things I don’t like about our new life, such as, for example, the eternal carpool pick-up line at my son Zack’s school. (Two-hundred… >> Read More
One thing I learned after my son Benjamin was diagnosed with autism is that raising a kid with special needs can be a very isolating experience. Sure, the couple of amazing autism mom friends I’ve…been lucky enough to meet have helped tremendously, but most of the time I still felt like an outsider in the mainstream parenting world. That all changed shortly after I started blogging about autism. Suddenly I discovered a whole community of other special needs bloggers I hadn’t known existed. It was like walking into a… >> Read More
"Zack gave his brother his last piece of candy!" I scrawled on the back of one of the white paper snowflakes distributed by my son Zack's teacher.
"Now make a happy face," Zack instructed. He was…closely monitoring the production of this "mitzvah note," which would be read aloud at some point this week to the whole class and then hung on the branches of the mitzvah tree that stretches out from a corner of the classroom. In addition to the happy face, I threw in a couple of extra exclamation… >> Read More
Last week, we lit a
candle in memory of my father-in-law who passed away two years ago. Benjamin, my 7 year old, blew it out.
I knew I couldn’t blame him. Benjamin can’t help but…think "birthday" when he sees any kind of candle—even the deathday kind. That’s just how his hyper-literal, behaviorally-trained autistic brain works. But at that moment, staring at the bleak, extinguished wick, I couldn’t help but feel annoyed. I am never thrilled by the destruction that often occurs when Benjamin is left unsupervised for even just a couple… >> Read More
For a long time my feelings about Christmas fell into the pleasantly ambivalent category. Sure, I might become slightly irritated when a national retailer had the nerve to run holiday commercials…before Thanksgiving, and the whole tipping thing stressed me out. Mostly, though, I just enjoyed the influx of treats at the office and the general glitteriness of the city. Recently the holiday season has become trickier. “I’m a Jewish people so I don’t have Christmas,” Zachary, my almost 5-year-old said matter-of-factly the other day while… >> Read More
I was really excited to shop for Benjamin’s Hanukkah gifts this year. Not just because he deserves them (and really, he does—the kid works so hard, and he’s been making amazing progress…lately), but because only recently does he seem to actually understand the concept of presents. Okay, so maybe I’m underestimating him—it’s possible he just didn’t care about receiving them in the past. Maybe because Benjamin, who's autistic, knew the thing in the fancy box wasn’t candy, a TV, or a computer. Or maybe presents didn’t… >> Read More
You have to check your mezuzahs!” Yossi’s mother implored while we were waiting at the hospital for our kids to come out of surgery.
I am normally not a superstitious person, but three weeks …before this injury, Zachary knocked out a couple of teeth and the baby dislocated her elbow. The idea that a damaged mezuzah scroll had landed my kid in the hospital (again) was quite appealing. At least it was a brief reprieve from the last 12 hours I’d spent telling myself (and Yossi’s parents who I met… >> Read More
Halloween was terrifying last year. It wasn’t the fake blood or the creepy clowns or the overwhelming crowds that descend on our block every year (seriously—we get around 2,000 trick or…treaters). It was the peanuts. Benjamin, my autistic 7-year-old, is severely allergic to them. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t understand that eating them can make him stop breathing, but even if he does, he definitely doesn’t realize that they’re in so many chocolatey treats. What I do know is he’s a crazy impulsive sugar fiend… >> Read More