Be Careful with the “Sunburned” Mommy – A Memory and Reflection

This weeks The Red Dress Club Prompt is multiple parts:

A Red Dress Club writing prompt

Part I

Make a list of some of your most vivid childhood (or more recent) memories. (Maybe it’s an image of your father or mother doing something they did regularly; maybe it’s a visit to a grandmother’s house.)

Jot down a few memories and then pick one and write it down in as much detail as possible. (Take 10-15 minutes to do that…)

My Childhood – before age 12

  • My mother “sunburned”
  • The evil carbon copy of myself
  • Winning my first audition
  • My first bike
  • Freak Out
  • Newspaper thief
  • “But I left my homework at home..”
  • Them
  • Rain at Worlds of Fun
  • Halloween “Ghoulosh”

My Mother “Sunburned”

Joy rushed through me.


School was out for the day.

I don’t remember how I arrived home anymore – the walk from my “new” first grade school along the busy road classified as “too dangerous.” If I had to guess, my G-ma picked me up and drove me home.


The olive green two story house I had known all of my life. White single car garage – that never had a car in it – just stuff and Daddy’s huge work bench. Slight incline up the driveway to the front door – perfect for careening downhill on my big wheel. White gravel rocks along the house, forming a secret passageway behind the pine bushes that surrounded front. Perfect for writing on the concrete. The smell of freshly mowed grass filling my nose as I passed The Tree showcased dead center in the yard – I could reach it now and escape into the height of the branches from my little sister.


I raced up the driveway, rushed inside, and dumped my backpack upon the floor – empty of books, only carrying my lunchbox and notes from the school – in a time and age before teachers started true homework that early.

My mom was there, curled in the horrid velvety 1970’s orange chair, huddled under a thick blanket despite the warm day and staring blankly at the television in front of her.

“Mom!” I shouted in joy as I raced toward her. She was home! I hadn’t seen her much in the previous weeks. She’d been gone “To Rochester” with my dad, while I’d stayed at my grandparents’ house down the street. Excitement and love filled me as I closed in to give her my usual hug.

“Stop Kelly!” My grandma yelled, stopping me in my tracks. “You have to be careful.”

Careful? With my mother? But she was Mom. She liked hugs!

I looked closer at my mother, the dark circles under her eyes, her waxen complexion, the fragility in her posture.

“Are you sick, Momma?”

She forced a small smile for me. “A little bit sweetie. I’ve been to the doctor in Rochester, remember?”

I nodded.

She pulled the blanket down, her shirt made up of the thinnest material, showing me her upper chest and arms – not pale or tan, but fiery red and angry. “Mommy has a bad sunburn sweetie. I need you to be very gentle with me.”

“Okay, Momma.” I closed the distance while my grandmother watched me like a hawk, ensuring I didn’t further injure my mother. Delicately, barely touching her, I gave my mother the lightest hug I could manage, as if she were glass I feared breaking. “I love you, Mom.”

“I love you too, sweetie.”


Part II

Now I want you to investigate what this memory means to you. Ask yourself the following questions (Take 10-15 minutes to do that.):

Why has this stuck with me? It was the first time – in my 7 year old blissful ignorance – I realized my mother was really sick.  It didn’t just mean staying with my grandparents a lot while Mom and Dad were gone – it meant my mother couldn’t do everything she used to be able to do – even something so small, like hug me.

What did this mean to me at the time? I had to be more careful around my mother and help take care of her. I also had to pray a lot so she would get better and be able to play with me again.

Why did I (or someone else in the scene) react the way I (they) did? My grandmother seems overly harsh in this scene, and I get it now. My mother is her very sick baby girl. She was protecting my mother from me as I barreled full tilt toward my her.  Had I continued over the short distance and given my mother her traditional greeting, I would have hurt her, badly – possibly making her cry or yell in pain. In a way, my grandmother was also protecting me – so I wouldn’t have to live with the memory of a hug causing my mother to cry out in agony.

How does it feel to look back on it? Terrified and blessed. I had no concept of how close I came to losing my mother at a young age. None. The idea of how different my life would’ve been without her by my side – it scares me – because she was my Unconditional Love through my tortured tween years. Blessed because my mother was a fighter – she wanted to see her two girls grow up and get married. Whether thanks to her will, her young age, her seeking a doctor and discovering what was wrong with her (lymphoma) before it metastasized, or sheer luck – my mother is still with me today.

Here’s a blog I wrote about her as a gift for her 60th birthday last year. Because sometimes our mother’s need to here that even though we had differences, we love them back just as unconditionally as they love us.

How does it still affect me (or not)? I try to never take my mother or another family member for granted. I also try to emulate her and be a wonderful, unconditional loving mother to my two children – letting them know everyday that I love them with all of my heart.


Comments and constructive criticism are always welcomed. If I don’t respond to your comment for while, it’s because I’m busy writing, taking care of my kids, or working my way through as many linkups as possible.


About Kelly K @ Dances with Chaos

Kelly K has learned the five steps to surviving of motherhood: 1) Don't get mad. Grab your camera. 2) Take a photograph. 3) Blog about it. 4) Laugh. 5) Repeat. She shares these tales at Dances with Chaos in order to preserve what tiny amount of sanity remains. You can also find her on her sister blog, Writing with Chaos ( sharing memoir and engaging in her true love: fiction writing. It's cheaper than therapy.
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23 Responses to Be Careful with the “Sunburned” Mommy – A Memory and Reflection

  1. I’m SO glad that this memory had a happy ending, no matter how sad or confusing or stressful it may have been at the time. Thank you for sharing this..

  2. Thank you for sharing both a painful memory and an equally happy memory – Isn’t it amazing that it can be both? I’m also glad it has a happy ending, you’re lucky to still have your Mama.

    • I know (duality of happy/sad memories). That moment was a perfect example.

      I am extremely lucky. Most people didn’t live five years past diagnoses at that time, some not past one year.

      I think she’s the only one that made it to 10 years out of the people treated during the same time.

      My life would not be what it is had she not continued raising me, and I cannot express how blessed I feel to have had her as a mother.

  3. Yuliya says:

    What great follow through with the prompt! Thank you for sharing your memory with us, I loved the details.

    • I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to post entire thing, so I did – just following it as if homework assigned – albeit chosen “fun” homework.

      I figured anyone reading would want to know that it isn’t truly a sad story and have to hit the tissue boxes some more.

  4. Jack says:

    I thought that I had left a comment but realized that I had been thinking about it. I liked how you included your grandmother as protecting you and and your mother.

    I also appreciate how you see this episode differently as an adult. I have had similar realizations as an adult. It is funny sometimes how we didn’t recognize the severity of some situations as a child. I suppose we should be grateful for being oblivious.

  5. Nodding in agreement with the comments above. This look at this moment in your life is so fantastic because now that you do look back at it you can see so much that you didn’t in the moment. I especially liked the part where you examine your grandmother’s reaction to you. It’s not often that we see these elderly matrons in a mother role for their own child. It’s lovely that you can look back and see that moment very clearly!
    Great writing and introspect!

  6. Katie says:

    Wow! great work with the prompt! You totally rocked this…both parts! And like the other comments…it’s a great mix of happy and scary. You nailed them both…along with the childlike confusion of knowing something is wrong, but not knowing the depth.

  7. JP says:

    Sometimes I have found that looking through older eyes helps us see a little clearer! Good job…:)JP

  8. Nichole says:

    You did such an amazing job of capturing the joy and then confusion in the situation through your childhood eyes.

    I love how you point out that your mom was your grandmother’s baby girl. That’s tough to do sometimes, to see our mothers as anything but our mothers.

    Lovely job!

  9. Kate Hopper says:

    Kelly, thank you so much for sharing this. What a powerful story. (And I’m so glad that your mom survived!) I also love the way you look back at your grandmother’s reaction with the perspective of a mother. Have you ever talked to your mom about what it felt like to be so sick when she had small children? It must have been so hard for her to be away from you and to know that you wouldn’t be able to understand what was happening to her. Really wonderful work!


    • I did talk to my mother in later years about what it was like, and also how she truly beat the odds with what she had – most people with her type of cancer during that era were not so lucky. This is when the fear of how close I truly came to losing her was finally realized. I did a report on cancer my senior year for biology class, and took her CAT scan images in showing her tumor and how huge it was (it’s still there today, just dormant). My class couldn’t believe she was still living.

      She is also why I had more formal wedding ceremony than I probably would’ve had otherwise – because I knew one of the dreams that kept her doing during those years was “I want to see my daughters grow up and get married.” I wanted to give her that dream in its full glory. She told us my sister and I (my brother wouldn’t exist for several years) were why she fought so hard and endured everything – because damn if she was going to miss us growing up because of a pesky diagnoses of lymphoma.

      She would rent a motel room and stay there during her treatments (at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota – we lived in Iowa), and we’d occasionally go up and visit her. My grandparents pretty much raised me during this time, as my dad had a business to run or was with her, and when she was home she wasn’t fully capable of doing everything.

      So even if I accomplish nothing else in my life, I know in way, I am partly responsible for my mother being here today. I look at my own children and know I’d feel the exact same way about them.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

  10. mrsbear0309 says:

    Even though you didn’t completely understand the situation at the time, this memory clearly made an impact. Especially seeing your mom suddenly as vulnerable. So glad to know she recovered.

  11. Leighann says:

    Isn’t it interesting how our memories change over time and we realize why the people we love did what they did.
    Great job.

  12. Angel says:

    I am so glad that she is still with you.. I can’t imagine going through that at such a young age…

  13. I love how your perspective has changed as you’ve grown up. What was a confusing time, with your grandmother’s perceived harshness, is now an appreciation for her protecting her child.

    And, of course, I’m so happy your mother is still with you today.

  14. Lydia says:

    It’s a very strong memory and I can see why it stuck. I think kids take things lightly because they are kids, when they stop doing this It’s like a veil has been lifted and can’t be closed again.
    I’m glad you didn’t lose your mama back then though.

  15. Mandyland says:

    What a wonderful piece of writing. I envisioned your home, your mom, your grandmother watching.

    One of my favorite memoirs is Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. I don’t know if you’ve read it, but one of the things that really stuck with me was how he told it from age perspective. As an adult, I was able to deduce what was happening based on his clues and observations.

    This post was very similar in that you wrote from a child’s perspective. Brilliantly done.

    And I’m so happy that your mom is still with you.

  16. MamaRobinJ says:

    Loved reading all elements of this. The piece itself is really great, and I love how you shared the first part and the later analysis. So interesting!

    I definitely agree with all the comments above too. My mom had cancer a few years ago and I can’t imagine what it would be like to look back on having had that experience as a child. Great work.

  17. What a beautiful and painful memory.

    I do love the image of the garage full of stuff and never a car.

    And the angry red of your mother’s skin. Very vivid.

  18. Frelle says:

    wow, that was vivid! I loved hearing your explanation!

  19. Sara says:

    Thank you for sharing this with me. You are right – the stories as so similar. I’m guessing your mother was burned from the radiation treatments? It’s unbelievable to me what it takes to fight and how gracefully they do it.
    I really enjoyed reading your insight on how your grandmother was protecting her very sick little girl and you as well. That is often an overlooked point of view and it is a beautiful observation that you make: 3 generations together, true sisterhood, loving one another.
    I’m so glad for your sake that your story does not end like mine.
    I’m off to read your birthday gift to her.

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