Saturday, February 11, 2012

Day Forty-Two: "I Stand Here Ironing" by Tillie Olsen


A mother stands at her ironing board, ironing, thinking as she waits for her 19 year old daughter to return home from a long day of school. What will become of her daughter? Did she fail as a mother? How could things have gone differently?

With line after line of memories filled with child rearing, a mom making tough decisions about work, bedtimes, discipline, and housecleaning in relation to the time spent with her children, this story reads as a sort of referendum on motherhood on the run.

When the mother acknowledges how she has managed her daughter rather than truly being a mother to her, she says this and it breaks the reader's heart for both the mother and her child:

"I will never total it all. I will never come in to say: She was a child seldom smiled at."

This short story is a cautionary tale about what happens when you don't pay attention to your child's needs or when you pretend that those needs aren't really there. For this single mother, the blinders she wore in order to survive, to keep her family unit in place, are the same ones that allowed her to muster some hope in the end that her daughter would do better than her, BE more than just another mother standing over her ironing board.

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