By Robin Jean Marie Conte

Every couple of years, one of our kids graduates from some level of higher learning, so I clean the house and throw a party.

We also use a graduation as an excuse for home improvements. For one weekend every few years, our house looks great.

With our first graduation, we built a deck. With the second one, we landscaped the yard. We had another graduation this spring, which was perfect timing because the windows needed cleaning.

This time around, though, we were going to keep the party simple—just cake, coffee and congratulatory conversation on a Sunday afternoon. It would be (pardon the pun) a piece of cake. But just as I have forgotten the pains of childbirth, I forgot about the pains of having a party at home…so there I was this May, laboring once again to get the house and yard ready.

I began preparations two weeks before the party; like a good Southern woman, I started by planting flowers. I bought planters, trellises and an assortment of flora. I also stocked up on hydrangeas, because nothing says Southern hospitality like hydrangeas.

Then I moved to the inside of the house and cleaned until the place was unrecognizable. I vacuumed curtains, I defrosted the freezer, I dusted the logs in the fireplace. I banished textbooks from the kitchen table and moved files to the basement where they would languish next to the five boxes of miscellaneous items collected before our last party.

We were only inviting family members and a few neighbors, and I told my daughter she could invite as many friends as she wanted. I figured we might have a total of about 40 people. The weekend before the party, my daughter emailed me from her dorm room with the message, “Hee hee, it turns out that I have more friends than I thought. Can I invite 60?”

Sure honey. Bring ‘em on. But with an ENA (estimated number of arrivals) ranging from 65 to 90, I needed to recalculate the food and beverage supply. I was not raised with a less-is-more mentality; my mother taught me instead that more is probably not enough. It was time to delegate and go to Costco. My mother volunteered for duty, so I made her Brigadier General of Brownies.

It was “Party” minus three days and counting. Refrigerators were stocked, floors were shined. Photos, platters and beverage dispensers were at their stations. My husband was coming to the dinner table with his leaf blower still strapped on. At P-2 days, my boys were not allowed into the house with their shoes on, and at P-1, they were not allowed inside at all.

All that remained were the last-minute preparations.

At 0900 hours on P-Day, I was on my hands and knees wiping dried coffee stains off my kitchen cabinets. My son saw me and said, “Is that really necessary?”

“The devil is in the details, honey,” I replied.

At P- 2 hours, I started shouting orders like a sergeant preparing for an invasion:

“You! Put ice in the coolers!”

“You! Unpack the croissants!”

“You! Tie balloons to the flower pots by the front door!”

Then reinforcements landed. My mother arrived with seven dozen brownies, my sister had four back-up gallons of lemonade, and my cousin mobilized the fruit and cheese trays. Yes, only cake and coffee were advertised, but who was I kidding? We had enough to feed Bulgaria.

Friends and family arrived, and our graduate came home, along with eds and co-eds. They came, they ate, they conquered. It was a terrific party. It lasted only a few short hours, but the aftermath lingers: My potted plants are still flourishing and the windows are pollen-free.

Will I do this again? Of course I will — I’ve got two more that will graduate high school in a few years. Actually, I can hardly wait, because the house needs painting.

Robin Conte is a writer and mother of four who lives in Dunwoody. She can be contacted at

Robin Conte

Robin Conte lives with her husband in an empty nest in Dunwoody. To contact her or to buy her new column collection, “The Best of the Nest,” see