Potato Salad People

Someone once said “Always surround yourself with people who are better than you.” Well congratulations to me, I’ve done that. I am the ghetto-beauty hood rat of everyone I know. And I love it. But. 

As I’ve mentioned, I have the smallest house, the least money, an utter indifference to the condition of my body, and no ambition that doesn’t involve writing. Or cake. Someday I’d like to eat a perfect cake, where the frosting is as light as mousse and there are perfect sugar roses all around it. I digress.

But it has to TASTE as good as it looks and they never do.

I made another friend tonight who is better than me. Her house is what jealous people call a McMansion. In reality it’s just a lovely large new house. She lives in it because her and her husband worked 90 hour weeks building up their auto repair business. Tonight when I stopped by to give her some Girl Scout paperwork, she invited me in and gave me candy-sweet champagne. She was celebrating because she’d just landed a contract for her now multiple shops with the third biggest insurance company in the state. Her hair is a no-nonsense pony tail, her accent broad mid-western, and she carries not even a whiff of trophy-wife. She’s a tough mother.

My daughter is near crisis as she befriends the non-thrift-store-dressed daughter, making yet another friend who lives in a palace of Corian counter-tops and free-standing glass-bowl bathroom sinks.

Not Yours.

She runs into the living room…I think it’s the living room. Those houses have like four rooms that could be called the living room, and squeaks, “Their bathroom is huge and their shower has two places for the water that comes out and there’s a TV above the tub!” Wait till she looks around and find there are three more of the damn things. No one in our house is allowed to lock the door when they pee or shower, in case someone else needs to get in the bathroom. 

I’m starting to wonder if maybe her exposure to how people live is unbalanced. I don’t remember the last time she was inside an apartment, or a house more than ten years old. Except ours. The last time she met a parent who worked because they must, not because they were trying to scale Maslow’s Hierarchy with a rewarding career they studied years to achieve.

I don’t know how to make my daughter stop sighing, “I wish our house was pretty. I wish our house was rich. I wish I lived at (whatever kid’s house she just left)’s house.” All she knows is Corian and spanakopita made with spinach from the Farmer’s Market. I don’t know how to get her to see the most of the world is closer to her own parents: potato salad and rental unit people; and they’re good, smart, and strong. That different isn’t always less. It took me a long time to really understand that myself. I want to make it a shorter lesson for her. 

22 thoughts on “Potato Salad People

  1. I grew up adjacent to one of the wealthiest areas in the country, which really messed me up in that regard. Thinking we were poor, when really we were just middle class. Stupid granite countertops and custom crown molding.


      • There’s always the struggle to be happy with what I have, but also when I got older I could see how wealth didn’t provide fulfillment. Most of the wealthy people I knew were very unhappy, which I remind myself of any time I start pining for a new car.


  2. It’s human nature to admire the things we wished we had. I love what you say about different not being less. That’s such a great statement and lesson! Maybe she could volunteer at some non-profits or community group? Even a hospital? (I don’t know how old she is but just a thought to give her more perspective)


    • I was thinking about that. At my highschool we were required to work some time at a homeless shelter and was a lesson in humanity all right. But I don’t want her to just see the polar extremes. I want her to meet the regular people.


      • Well it could be a community center or something similar where you’ll see all walks of life as opposed to extremes.


  3. first – i love your life goals – mine are ice cream and writing! second, i love those counter tops!! and appliances – they are so pretty! and third, we have a similar problem, we have a lot of wealthier friends and my kids are always coming home and saying, why can’t we have a hot tub? or a pool? or a basketball court in our basement? whatever, they’ll learn, bigger isn’t always better. there’s love over here and lots of ice cream. 🙂


  4. Being surrounded by people who have “all the things” is dangerous. It makes us assume that everyone has those things. And then we start thinking everyone NEEDS those things. I’m glad I grew up before cell phones and computers were ubiquitous. Like you, I’m glad I’ve lived with potato salad and rental units. I have no idea how to offer that perspective to your child though.


  5. I had the distinct pleasure of traveling 1300 miles to the Central American country of Belize. To see the meager existence they have and compare to that of my own is the surest way to appreciate what you have no matter what it may be. I hope to give my son and daughter the chance to see this soon so they will understand the importance of their reality.


  6. Apartment livers of the world unite! I worry about this somewhat with my kids, too. Both my wife and I are in the arts (she is an arts administrator and I am a freelance theatre director, so … broke?) and will never have the Big Suburban house. Your child is largely reacting to the influence that a profit-driven commercial society places upon her. Watch 10 minutes of TV (or do yourself a favor and don’t) and see how unbalanced the media portrays the Typical American Family. As a young person, it’s pretty hard to feel comfortable with your situation when there is little reflection of yourself in the mass media that you and every one you know consumes on a daily basis.

    Great, relevant post!


    • Thanks…relevant, thoughtful reply! Which sorta just depresses me further. But really proud you were paying attention.


  7. I love your writing so you should consider the goal of being a great writer, ACHIEVED! I struggle with this myself. I love potato salad and know that I’d love having playdates with you.


  8. My kids hear stories about the at-risk families I work with. They see people with much bigger houses and pretty things and expensive electronics and they see that while we may not have it all-we have what we need. My parents were rich disguised as potato salad people..they even fooled their own children.


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