I Stand Here Ironing

I stand here ironing, and what you asked me moves tormented back and forth with the iron.

— from “I Stand Here Ironing” by Tillie Olsen (b. 1913)

I remember reading this short story for a college class and not being overly impressed. Now, after three children, this story strikes home. It’s the story of a mother of five recalling her life, and especially the life of her first-born, a girl, now age 19. Someone has asked the mother to help her understand the daughter so she can help her. This is a mother story. Probably, you can’t fully understand it if you aren’t a mother yourself. So many complicated emotions and ties between mother and child. So much space between the two, yet so much intimacy. This story fleshes out that paradox. I might move this up to number two in my rankings of favorite stories. “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett is still at number one.


7 thoughts on “I Stand Here Ironing”

      1. Thanks so much for your kind comment, Amy! I would like to know if you have suggestions for short stories written by Israeli authors. I loved the short stories of the book “Between Friends”, by Amos Oz.

  1. I had never heard of this short story, but it looks like she had an interesting life. I agree, mothering is complicated.
    I haven’t read “A White Heron”- it looks like it’s shelved in the kids’ section at my local library. I loved Country of the Pointed Firs, although it’s the only book I’ve read by her. We live very close to her hometown.

    1. “A White Heron” is about a young girl, so maybe that is why it is in the children’s section. I love Jewett’s descriptions of New England. I’ve never been to your part of the country myself, but I think it must be pretty:)

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