Life, Motherhood, Rocking Ordinary
Comments 13

Potato Salad Freak Out

What if the perfect party isn't even important? via @lagarfias

It all started with a big, huge Cry Mommy Freak Out over potato salad.

My oldest son was graduating, and we were just going to have a simple party in the backyard to celebrate. Nothing big, no ceremony, no pomp and circumstance, just some snacks and friends and cake. Easy, right?

Wrong. Nothing with me is easy. True to form, I complicated-up everything, planning an elaborate meal of grilled chicken and sides and fresh fruit and matchy-matchy paper products and punch and seventy of my closest friends.

Now, bear in mind, I have Hospitality Anxiety Disorder. It’s more of a paralyzing, mind-controlling, freak-out-inducing phobia with a large side order of panic attack. I don’t host parties, I don’t have people over hardly ever, and each of my children already used up their one “have a friend over for free” card. People are scary, and my house is my sanctuary, and it’s not beautiful or perfect or decorated well or super clean but I love it and try really hard to keep the stress out of it.

But my firstborn was graduating, and he didn’t want a ceremony, but we simply had to mark the occasion and send him off into Real Life with some kind of momentous moment. The only compromise we all could settle on was a party.

It started out as an open house with snacks, then the husband wanted to grill, then marinated chicken at the Mexican market was less expensive than hamburgers, then you have to have side dishes, and I love beans so that’s one, and potato salad is cold, so WHAM. Potato salad.

So when one has a large party coming up, one doesn’t want to disappoint one’s guest of honor by having only three people come. That’s embarrassing. So one invites one’s entire (albeit small) church along with everyone one knows in one’s town. Then one sits back and lets Evite calculate how many people are coming while one tries to keep the entire fiasco out of one’s sight and out of one’s mind.

Then the evening before the party, the gig was up. No bones about it, we had to acknowledge that the big event is upon us. Time to buy food and ingredients and plates and plastic forks, so how many do we need? We checked the evite registry, and lo-and-behold . . .

Over seventy people had RSVP’d for my party.

I was so scrod.

Do you know how much potato salad feeds 70 people? Google it. You will see why my only alternative was to freak out.

I am really good at freaking out, too. I had the buggy eyes and the high-pitched voice and the sweat and the tears and the waving hands and the doomsday predictions. Children fled the house, neighbors locked their doors, the emergency services were on high alert. It was bad, people.

Bless his heart, my husband is really good at managing Cry Mommy Freak Outs. He dragged me, kicking and screaming and ranting and raving, into the minivan and drove me to Chipotle (because eating fixes so many problems). While standing in line — and I’m not making any of this up — he called the grocery store to order the cake (which I had forgotten to do, of course) and did a quick internet search on how much potato salad costs per pound ready made. “You are NOT going to make it from scratch! You’re buying it from WalMart, if you have to.”

Now, you know how I feel about WalMart. If you don’t, just imagine that if having people over to my house freaks me out, I may go a little nuts at having to look at people in their pajamas and fuzzy slippers in a public building.

After dinner, he drove me to the dollar store to stock up on more paper products and to Target to buy half-price sodas and chips. I felt slightly better. Clinging to the promise of ready-made-potato-salad, I fell into a fitful burrito-bowl-induced sleep.

The next day, my daughter accompanied me (for the protection of the public) to the grocery store to buy the rest of the supplies. Fresh fruit and fresh guacamole made me feel almost like a hostess. But there was the Potato Salad Problem. I went to the nice deli in my nice grocery store and found the potato salad was $3 per pound. That’s prohibitively expensive. My sanity goes for much cheaper. It’s potato salad, not coffee, people.

Dorothy, the nice lady behind the counter who orders me yummy goat cheese, asked me what I needed and I told her I needed at least 10 lbs of potato salad, and I needed it cheaper than WalMart. “Honey, who needs that much potato salad?”

I do, can’t you see from my crazed expression and desperate hand waving? Don’t mess with me, deli lady!

This woman had seen Pre-Party Freak Outs before, obviously, because she told my daughter to keep a close eye on me while she ran to do some calculations. In just a few minutes, she had written up an order for 10 lbs of potato salad for only $13, made fresh with mustard and pickle relish, just like homemade. “You come get it after church tomorrow, and go home and relax a bit now.” She could just as well have written me a prescription for Valium, it was that effective.

I had potato salad. 

And sure enough, the next day I had nearly 70 people crammed in my house eating the potato salad and chicken and beans and rice and berries and ice cream punch and sheet cake and wouldn’t you know it . . . they were smiling! There were people crammed in every nook and cranny in my house, the preteens hung out in the garage, the little kids kicked the ball in the back yard, some of the guys stood around the grill, and nearly every woman stood in my kitchen under foot laughing while I tried to keep the table stocked with fruit and forks. But I kid you not, I had fun.

I actually smiled.

And when it was all over, we had just a little leftovers and very little mess. Boom. Party accomplished.

While I was telling my friend about the potato salad success on the phone later that night, I realized (you won’t believe this) that I may have made a bigger deal about the potato salad than I needed to. I know, shocking, but hear me out for a second.

What if potato salad wasn’t the most important part of the party at all?

Maybe the reason the afternoon was so memorable was not because the potato salad was on point (but it was) and not even because my Fiesta platters matched the paper products (you know they did). Maybe the entire thing was not about that at all, but about more precious, more valuable provisions:

  • a young man equipped for a bright, promising future
  • a young family relieved they didn’t mess up at least one of the progeny
  • grandparents who drove 700 miles to celebrate their love
  • a host of friends who support, encourage, and exhort us every step of the way
  • a God who provides all our needs — from education to relationships to potato salad.

I could hardly sleep that night for counting all my blessings. Every ordinary one.



  1. Jen says

    I can relate, I am already freaking out about my son’s 6th birthday party coming up and it’s in 3 weeks, ample time to plan (and fret!). We are a Christian homeschooling family and this will be the first “friends” party for him, a Wild Kratts theme, Tortuga cake and all! Thank you for openly sharing this story and reminding me that God is always in control…if he can create the entire universe, he can certainly help me plan and host a birthday party!


  2. So true. I mentioned this on your facebook post, but I think secular society conditions us to want to sweat the small stuff. The truth is, this robs us of the joy of the moment. That’s what God really wants for us – joy. Not easy to remember that we can choose it when life’s little moments seem so big.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As I read this I was thinking about my great-aunt. Her husband owned a deli and she herself MADE THE POTATO SALAD at home in her kitchen. She put it in BUCKETS to take to the deli. Can you even?

    Praise God you married someone who could balance you out!

    Ethan’s party is the 25th of June and it’s a combo party for him and his two best friends. It’s a relief to know I have two other moms to work with this year.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. lynnabrooke says

    It’s not that I don’t stress about gatherings, but my personality is more “what you see is what you get – this is the real me, my real house and I’d love to have you here if you want to hang out”. Growing up, we had people in and out of our house all the time. That feels “normal” to me. HOWEVER. I read my husband the paragraph about Hospitality Anxiety Disorder and he had this look on his face like “Yes. Yes, I have that.” In fact, he has had some of the same feelings you mentioned – my home is my sanctuary and I try to keep the stress out. My “let’s just relax and be OK that our house isn’t perfect” attitude doesn’t help him much either. So anyway, thanks for illustrating another perspective for me! As usual, delightful writing!

    Liked by 1 person

      • lynnabrooke says

        I really believe it’s more about the formative years having a big impact on what I consider “normal” than it is about some kind of moral achievement.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Carrie Willard says

    Oh boy, this was me last month! My oldest also graduated and we had a backyard fete. It went well, but I was awash in anxiety for weeks beforehand. Keeping detailed lists of All The Things helped, as well as prayer. Also, my son’s band played, so I knew that even if everything *I* did sucked, the music would make up for it.

    But of course, it went beautifully. A good time was had by all, and all that. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have had (ahem) numerous “mom freak outs”..including but not limited to my daughter (who is 8) and my son (who is 10) who have “never had a birthday all. So this past October we invited all their friends from church, AHG, and Cub Scouts to come to the park and have a cook out (burgers, hot dogs, home made cake, egg salad, etc..) and..only 2 families RSVP’d. Yep. ( we have 2 kiddos whose birthdays are in October, 1 born Dec 31, and our oldest, born April 28. As DH grilled turkey burgers (which were cheaper) we discovered that they are frozen. Together. So I drove to closest Winn Dixie to get a box of regular old hamburger patties for DH to grill. Turned out there were more folks who ended up coming, and we had the leftover stuff for the next party (which was 2 weeks away). It all ended up fun, albeit a bit crazy.
    Our daughter’s friends from AHG were all camping that weekend..(scheduled after her party)..but some friends did come. And with Grandma + our family of 6..well, it was fun..
    The cake? Done by oldest daughter..FROZEN theme. She did a cake..that the night before we did cupcakes..iced..then decorated by DD. We also did “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” out of balloons. Sidewalk chalk and face painting by oldest DD and her friend saved the day!


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