The central idea of "I Stand Here Ironing" is the fragility of the mother-daughter relationship within the context of single motherhood.
The narrator highlights the central idea through a stream-of-consciousness, first-person narrative. She describes her feelings of ambivalence, frustration, guilt, and grief as she documents her turbulent relationship with her eldest child, Emily. According to the narrator, her husband was the one who left. This is how she became a single mother.
The narrator tells us that she had to begin taking Emily to preschool when she was just two years old. She uses colloquial, emotionally-charged language to describe how Emily tried to avoid attending preschool on many occasions. Her words inspire pity, as we envision what our protagonists must have endured. In our minds, we see the mother wracked with guilt, even as the daughter is tormented by fears of abandonment:
She always had a reason why we should stay home. Momma,...
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