Why did Emily reject her mother's love when she returned from the convalescent home in "I Stand Here Ironing?"
By the time Emily returned from the convalescent home, she had been traumatized by years of instability and insufficient nurturing. Her mother had had her as a teenager, and although she had tried her best, had not been able to give her the continuity and love that she needed. Abandoned by her husband when Emily was only eight months old, Emily's mother had had to leave her baby with a series of caretakers in order to go to work to support herself and her child. Emily had not been happy in the care of these strange people, and Emily's mother remembers with a sense of sadness and guilt that the child would break into "a clogged weeping that could not be comforted, a weeping I can hear yet," everyday when she returned to pick her up.
When Emily was older, her mother found it necessary to send her to a nursery school, which she hated, so she could continue working. Her mother then remarried, and Emily had to adjust to life with a "new daddy."
When Emily came down with a severe case of the red measles, her illness coincided with the birth of a new baby. Because of the fear of contagion, she was not allowed near her mother or the infant for a week when her mother came home, and "she did not get well...she stayed skeleton thin, not wanting to eat, and night after night she had nightmares." Her mother was too exhausted, tending to the new baby, to meet Emily's needs, and there is no doubt the child felt bewildered and displaced. When she was sent to a convalescent home, the only contact she was allowed with her mother was through letters and twice-a-month visits from afar, and when she came home, she was distant and subdued. Her mother recalls that she
"used to try to hold and love her after she came back, but her body would stay stiff, and after a while she'd push away."
After eight months at the convalescent home and years of instability and lack of love, Emily has learned not to depend on her mother or others. Although her mother has tried her best, her own situation was difficult, and she has not been able to love Emily enough. Emily is a lonely, unhappy child who has learned that to reach out for love is to risk rejection, and so she can no longer accept her mother's attempts to connect with her.