Updated: Sep 20
It is approaching October. Today I tackled the mountain of clothing that had lain since February. Idle, waiting, wanting to be ironed, folded in drawers and hung in wardrobes in our Edinburgh apartment . I’ve been elsewhere, on Tiree at Yellow Hare, working and living ferociously, returning only briefly every few months, each time passing and hating the sight of that pile but unable to put it away undone. Why? It’s a good question. So few seem to iron these days, with no ill effects. It’s habit, training, upbringing, conditioning; whatever the reason, I’m compelled. My mother, my grandmother, my siblings and many of my friends - we all do it, still. However out of fashion it tries to become. We iron our clothes. It remains a mainly-female chore and I loathe and detest the obvious segregation and belittling of myself in this way but seem powerless to stop it.
The pile was a constant reminder of what I had lost. Daughter Ellie had left for Australia last year and Harvey was at university six hundred miles away. With the children now gone, I had no reason or motivation to tackle it. It was mostly theirs and they apparently had no need of it. It had lain so long I couldn’t even say what was among it of my own clothing and I didn’t care.
But, eventually, I realised I needed to be rid of it and today was the day, so I set to it. And as I did, something strange and wonderful happened.
I began to smooth the creases of a long black silky dress and saw Ellie in my mind's eye; hair and make-up so carefully applied, a wide smile on her face, an excited and beautiful 21 year old preparing to set off to her first proper Burn’s Supper, looking incredible in this gorgeous dress that she’d spent so long choosing. Next, the red trousers worn on the night she returned after midnight, merry and giggly, to reign supreme with her then-boyfriend at our post-dinner-party Kareoke at Christmastime. Then the blue, silk retro top she had us purchase on her behalf from Armstrong’s used-clothing in the Grassmarket for her birthday when she was in London the year previously. The ironed pile grew, and with it the memories. Her dad’s Save the Planet t-shirt from 1980 that she’d claimed for herself two year’s earlier. The Unicorn pijamas she’d worn since she was eight years old and refused to relinquish. How they still fitted her was a mystery, but they did. The pink sequined top I had worn almost thirty years earlier, also acquired from Armstrong’s, the same place we'd got her silky top – it was already forty years old when I bought it – that I had gifted her a few years earlier. She’d worn it for the first time last year and had looked so slim, I couldn’t believe I was once the same size. Over and over, item after item, the memories poured.
Among it were Harvey’s dress shirts, three of them, purchased specially for his final year at school, for formal occasions. We had spent so long choosing them; swaying between this shop and that; this type and that type. Bold stripes, subtle stripes, no stripes. It was all so important to him at the time. He barely remembers now, but I do, with clarity. And then the t-shirts, now outgrown, chosen when Next and H&M and Top Man were his favoured shops. He's embarrassed to acknowledge that now. When I came to ironing the blue chequered shirt, just before the brown chequered shirt, I saw him prepare nervously for his first major school dance. The one where you get to kiss the girl. He was there, he did it, and came home a different person. The now-too-short cargos he’d worn for a school trip camping outdoors all night, where his bullies plagued him once again, and who’ll never be forgotten or forgiven by his mum. The sports top he wore for that first half marathon finished hand-in-hand over the finish line with his closest friend, even when he knew he could have had a faster finish, but didn’t care because his friends mattered more.
And then my own things; tops I had long since forgotten. Trousers I’d worn only once. Memories from Australia and Tasmania last year – wonderful memories I’ll treasure. Life's been good so far. I’ve done things and been places most people could only dream of. My children are doing what I raised them to do, which is become strong, independent, curious individuals who want to go out and conquer the world. GO, them. Knowing that they are out there, happy, learning, trying, searching… and ultimately believing in themselves, and knowing that the world is theirs to explore… That's what good parents hope for. When I think on that and reach for the final item in need of pressing, I realise that any grief I think I’m feeling for their loss is shared with enormous pride – both in them and in myself and their dad – that they are hopefully becoming the best versions of themselves that they can be, thanks to us, as we encourage them to fly.
Until you've been there, you don't know what it is to watch your children walk off alone into the sunset for the first time. It's difficult, it's painstaking and it makes you feel heartbreakingly redundant. But that wanes after a time, leaving you with a whole new world of your own to (re-)explore. Already my feet are itching to get going.