Susan Orlean Admits To Becoming Her Mother Since Becoming A Mother

Last night there was fantastic event called “I’m Turning Into My Mother,” at the 92YTribeca hosted by SMITH Magazine. The event brought together writers and storytellers of all stripes to reflect on their experiences as parents or children. Among them was Susan Orlean, staff writer at The New Yorker and acclaimed author of many novels including The Orchid Thief. Upon ascending the stage, Susan recalled her own childhood that included an immaculately clean kitchen floor and her mother’s dedication to ironing everything she owned — including her underpants. Most vivid in her childhood memories are the sharp creases of her underwear, pressed into place by her mother’s diligent ironing. Susan admitted that because of her mother’s strict adherance to cleanliness and order, she distanced herself from such practices in her own adult life. But since becoming a mother to her now six year old son, Susan finds herself busting out the ironing board and going to town on her own little boy’s underthings.

Susan described to the audience coming home from school to find her mother preparing hors-d’oeuvres made of precious cubes of Velveta cheese. While other little kids hurriedly packed their trunks for summer camp, Susan would open her own to find all her clothes neatly folded and ironed. Her mother, she says, had never drunk a cup of coffee in her life. She had never smoked a single cigarette and drank “only about every eight months at a wedding,” Susan remembered.

Growing up, Susan says that she longed for a slightly less pristine mother who perhaps resembled Endora from Bewitched. More relaxed in demeanor with curlers in her hair and perhaps a small cocktail.

After her son was born, Susan didn’t bother to purchase an iron. Compared to how she grew up, Susan says that she is raising her son “like a wolf.”

“I didn’t own an iron which was part of the Endora movement,” she laughed.

But as of late, Susan has felt compelled to purchase an iron and has slowly found herself to be ironing — what else — but her son’s underwear. Now when he tears through his dresser drawer, she says that she rushes to fold back those neatly ironed undies with the same breathlessness that her own mother did. Although slightly horrified, she sighed and confessed her six-word memoir on becoming a mother, “I have begun ironing his underpants.”


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