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Routine disruption

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NOVEMBER 20, 2023

If dishes pile up in the sink, it’s not a huge issue. My roommates and I are all busy, each with a lot on our collective plates. Either we’ll each take ten minutes to wash dishes here and there throughout the day, or someone will put in their headphones, put their head down and knock it out in one go.

We kick our shoes off before we come inside, a puddle of them on the floor instead of in the shoe rack by the time the week is through. My roommate and I leave our mugs out; mine is blue pottery, hers has Garfield on it. Our other two roommates always get their dishes into the sink, but they don’t complain about the cups on the table.

I like to sweep the house on Mondays, after my 9:30 a.m. class. I do laundry every two weeks: using two washers and one dryer. I go grocery shopping on Tuesdays; every time I always buy half and half, eggs and spinach. Even if I’m not quite out of those items yet, I know I will be sooner than later. I make a pot of coffee, froth up my milk and drink it on my way out the door. I try to make breakfast, but if I’m not hungry it’s no sweat to instead snag a piece of toast on my way out the door. I eat dinner at 8 p.m. more often than not. When it’s summer, I like running around 7 p.m.

All of these are my little routines I’ve built through habit, figuring out what I like and what works for me.

When I’m home, all of these things change. My dad likes to cook and makes three meals a day. He likes dinner at the table at 6, 6:30 p.m. at the latest. So if I want to go for a run, I either have to suck it up and run at 5 p.m., or risk the nausea of running on a full stomach at 8 p.m. If there’s dishes in the sink, you have to put away the dishes that are drying before you wash any new ones.

He loves his kitchen — he has a set place for every pan, pot and spoon. He has backups for everything: peanut butter, toothpaste and deodorant. The man, as long as I’ve known him, has never done the thing where you keep telling yourself you’ll buy toothpaste — today for sure — but instead keep trying to squeeze every drop out of the tube. 

My dad likes to know where I am, what I’m up to and who I’m with. He likes having a plan, a schedule. It makes sense, if he’s putting dinner on the table he wants to make sure there’s hungry kids at the table to eat it. It grated a little in high school, and it grates a little now. After college with the freedom of making last minute plans and eating at all hours of the night, it’s always a little jarring to switch back. 

My mom has different rules and routines than my dad. Before college, I would switch between houses, and it would take me a second to get used to the switch. Sometimes I’d go to open a drawer to put something away and realize that this wasn’t the right drawer. I would subconsciously overlay the two different kitchens in my head and mix up the drawers because it felt like the right one. This slightly worsened when my mom moved apartments during my freshman year of college, and I came home to a space filled with familiar things but was unfamiliar — a totally new space.

I like going home. I love my family. I love that my dad likes to cook and that he cooks for me. I love that my mom texts and asks what meals I’d like before I visit. I know their habits: Even now I could tell you my mom reaches for sliced cheese and crackers when she wants a snack, and my dad will always wait the second it takes to greet a neighbor. It is still a little disconcerting when I go back to these old routines, remembering patterns that I’ve grown out of touch with. It reminds me that I’m getting older, I’m not the same person I used to be. It’s bittersweet in that way, that I can be a different person but still sleep in my purple room and wake up to my dad grinding coffee beans. 

I take the train home and on the way I remind myself of the place I’m going home to, one where I fit into a family instead of a group of friends. Yes, it can be discomfiting to readjust myself to a pattern that’s not mine anymore, but I don’t mind the disruption to my routines. I appreciate that there’s a space waiting for me, no matter how old I get.

Contact Aimee Han at