In the short story by Olsen, "I Stand Here Ironing," one of the themes is a mother's regret. As the mother stands at her ironing board pressing a dress, she recounts the childhood of her eldest daughter, Emily. Emily was the most beautiful baby out of the five children. However, after the father left, leaving a note that told his wife he no longer desired to share "want with us" (para 8), Emily's life became complicated. The mother recollects the times she had to send Emily away, so she could make a living. Through these absences, Emily's beauty vanished, and she became thin and "foreign-looking," like her father.
The mother regrets the years that have passed while she and her daughter grew further apart. However, even though the mother regrets those years, by the end of the story, she admits to herself that she did the best she could, given the situation. The mother rationalizes that Emily was simply a product of her environment, which included the war and uncertain economic times. There seems no clear cut resolution by the end of the story as the mother hopes that Emily is not the dress she is ironing; that is, she is not "helpless before the iron" (last para).