New York Times Sunday Routine: Zach Jenkins, Four Years Old

UP EARLY: I like to wake early on Sundays, without an alarm clock, at 5 a.m. It’s good to start the day by asking if anyone else is awake.

First, I call to Mom and ask if she is awake. Then, I call to Dad and ask if he is awake. After doing this for several minutes, one or both will answer, “No!” And so I will ask, “Are you awake now?”

We keep up this banter, bedroom to bedroom, for another five to ten minutes, until Dad stumbles into my room and demands, with his pointing finger, “Goddamnit, Zach, go back to sleep right now!” I have learned that this is the best time to recite a random phrase that I’ve picked up from television or the Internet. For instance, I like to say, “That’s showbiz!” Later, my parents will repeat this to other grownups, and they will all laugh. Laughter is nice to hear on Sundays. Dad doesn’t laugh at 5:15 on Sunday morning, though.

FIRST BREAKFAST: I wait until Dad is back asleep before getting out of bed. After making my own cereal, I like to spill most of it on the couch for the dog to lick up while I watch HBO shows that confuse and frighten me. It gets the Sunday blood pumping. Then, I like to use Dad’s phone to log into his Words with Friends and spell two-letter words. It keeps my mind sharp.

MOVIE TIME: When my parents get up, I take in my Sunday movie. The movie must be The Little Mermaid. It cannot be any other movie except The Little Mermaid. If anyone tries to make me watch anything besides The Little Mermaid, I like to “pitch a goddamned fit,” as my Mom calls it, rolling around on the ground, crying for The Little Mermaid. Once they start “the stupid movie,” I generally wait about five minutes before getting distracted by the dog or cat or, really, anything. Then I like to stop watching The Little Mermaid.

SECOND BREAKFAST: My parents like to serve Sunday breakfast around 10 a.m., with eggs and bacon and all that. I like to sit at the table and not eat and sigh heavily. It’s my form of meditation.

EXERCISE: My favorite Sunday exercise is Tag with Dog, Cat, and Napping Dad. It keeps me limber. I also like to accrue at least one injury per Sunday, and a game of indoor tag usually does the trick. Bloody lip, cracked forehead, cat scratch just underneath my eye, that kind of thing. Sometimes I like to run to Mom, crying, pretending that Dad punched me in the face. I don’t know why.

FAMILY ACTIVITIES: When Poppy and Mimi and Uncle Brian come over on Sunday afternoons, I like to fight the need for a nap and turn grumpy. I also like to openly question people. For instance, why does Uncle Brian come over for dinner but all he does is drink? And talk about his ex, Lucy? And why does his face grow red when I tell him the truth, that I like Lucy and her boobies better?

When things feel calmest on Sundays, I like to tell everyone that dinosaurs are coming to my house to eat me. The more I say it, the more I believe it. Soon, I’m shrieking, looking for a place to hide. It’s a nice Sunday adrenaline rush. At least until Uncle Brian suggests that the dinosaurs are just “showbiz dinos” and are “not real anymore.” At this point, I like to lose faith in all of humanity’s ability to play along, falling to the ground and lying catatonic for five full minutes.

On most Sundays, I like to ask, “Why?” at least 400 times. I like to stand on the coffee table and deliver a monologue. I like to hide in the bushes and pee. I like to catch Poppy picking his nose, and I like to find Mom and Dad’s secret stash of cigarettes and try to figure out how to smoke one before anyone catches me. I like to frown for the ever-present camera. Then, I like to say, “That’s showbiz!” These activities keep me grounded.

If anyone in the house tries to watch sports, I like to demand a viewing of SpongeBob instead. I watch it so hard that I drool on myself, maybe even pee on myself a little. This release of liquids on Sunday is healthy for the soul.

TIME FOR DINNER: Sunday dinner seems filled with adult tensions. I like to reflect those tensions in my manner. Sometimes, I refuse to sit down. Sometimes, I repeatedly interrupt Mimi while she’s talking about the way things used to be. Sometimes, I spit in Brian’s drink. After dinner is over, I’m famished.

WINDING DOWN: Sunday dusk is melancholy, gloomy. People leave. I cry. I say, “That’s showbiz!” After a moment, I ask, “When did I take a bath?” Then I ask, “How did I get on the couch?” Dad says, “You summed up my life right there, pal.” Mom laughs. I don’t understand. I demand to watch The Little Mermaid. Someone rubs my back.

On Sunday nights, I fall asleep on the couch. When Dad carries me to bed, tucks me in, and says, “Night, pal,” I like to wait until he turns out the lights. And then I pitch one more “whopper of a goddamned fit.” I think it helps the family get ready for the long week ahead.

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