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You know you don’t have to do this mum,” said my youngest daughter with her arms around me. “I know …. I want to do this for you,” I said with a sad, half-smile as I turned away to begin my long practiced routine.

Turn on the iron. Fill it with water. Turn the dial to the precise temperature that the years had taught me would remove the wrinkles without melting anything. Remove the soft, white downy fluff that the cat had left from sleeping on the ironing board. Wait for the light on the iron to turn green. Pick up the profoundly faded school uniform skirt and slide it on to the edge of the ironing board.

As my hand moved by muscle memory into the first uniform pleat, I remembered her very first school day, where a much too large uniform swamped my tiny daughter, who was already filled with a quick wit and deftly enquiring mind. She confidently greeted her new teacher on day one and her eyes sparkled with what she would learn.

The second pleat brought the deep, heart-wrenching sorrow of a 6 year old when her best friend in the entire universe changed schools at the end of the year while she remained behind.

The third pleat and I remembered her fear at starting at a new school that hopefully would give her room to grow, challenge and stretch her mind free from dogma and 1950’s thinking.

… Turn and gather in the next pleats.

The fourth pleat and I heard once again her over-spilling, giggling joy in a teacher who taught multiplication by writing numbers in the air by waggling his butt.

The fifth pleat and I saw her grow taller and gain in confidence as the one primary teacher who really “got her”, gave her the courage and the heartfelt gift to believe in herself.

The sixth pleat, I felt the visceral punch to confidence when a teacher filled with the bitterness of unhappy years in the wrong job remove all non-skinny, non-bombshell pretty girls from a school dance performance at the last possible moment … my daughter amongst them.

… Turn and gather in the next pleats.

The seventh pleat and the uniform changed from shorts and t-shirt to skirt and blouse the colour of trees, reflecting the change of seasons from primary to High School. She was now just one of thousands in a sea of green – and she desperately trod water trying to find land.

The eighth pleat brought braces and the loss of the deep sounds of the bass clarinet throughout the house. It brought new interests and the loss of many old ones. It brought teachers who lied and teachers who told the truth – and my daughter stuck in the middle, trying to make sense of a world where teachers were just school kids in bigger clothes.

The ninth pleat brought horrible hormones, Queen bitches and trauma so deeply buffeting that drowning was a real possibility. We learned much as a family of three that year, as we clung to each other for strength. Life rafts were dispatched and we survived … just.

… Turn and gather in the next pleats.

The tenth pleat saw the first glimmers of new hope combined with the first steps towards a potential future. Technology and a special placement at Uni courtesy of one teacher’s belief in her, exploded her possibilities and created a crystal clear goal for the first time. I felt excitement combined with frustration that her future was still so far away.

The eleventh pleat saw two years of slog, when intensely interesting subjects had all joy, passion and life sucked out of them by teachers who were counting the days until retirement – and then retired at the times guaranteed to cause the most collateral damage. But her goal remained clear in spite of and not because of.

… And now the final pleat.

I took my time tucking this one into place. Fussing about to find exactly the right position – exactly the right angle.

The final pleat brought me to today. Ironing my daughter’s school uniform for the last time before her final graduation.

The tears flowed as I remembered the past 20 years of uniforms from both my daughters and felt proud satisfaction in who these amazing young women have become.

I heard once again my mantra from the many days when life had ground me into dust – “If I can just get Teagan through school, then things will be OK.

I saw my youngest daughter’s pride in setting and achieving every goal and every target she had set herself, despite every setback and challenge, and I basked in her bubbly empathetic nature.

Today I ironed my last school uniform ever.

My daughters and I had made it … together.

And today, just like every other day, I ironed love into the pleats.

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