“I hate you, you’re not my mom!” I once shouted at my stepmother, looking her straight in the eyes for any hint of hatred back. The corners of her mouth curled inward, a sign she disapproved of my behavior, but she ignored me and continued cleaning the kitchen at a furious pace.

When I was young, Payton and I fought all the time. I lived with my father growing up, so I was around her often. Roaring arguments stemmed from basic conversation, where small talk evolved into big disagreements.

“You don’t love me,” I hollered at her as a teenager. “You love your own daughters more.” I remember the dark circles underneath her eyes, how exhausted she was from taking care of five children – three of which were not her own.

My brother, sister and I visited our mother twice a week and every other weekend. She spoiled us with what little money she possessed and constantly showered us with affection.

I was only 15 when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 40 years old and terrified.

During the years my mother went through chemotherapy and radiation, Payton and I still argued. Unlike my mother, her affection wasn’t as abundant and obvious. It wasn’t until I matured that I began to understand how she had expressed her love.


She taught me how to “deep clean” and regularly offered advice on how to balance a checking account. She showed me how to prepare healthy meals and helped me apply to colleges. She was preparing me for adulthood in ways my mom and dad couldn’t. She was showing me she loved me in the only way she knew how.

When I turned 18, my mother told me what Payton had done for her during the years she received treatment for her cancer. It was a thankless act of kindness I still think about to this day.

Payton went to every chemotherapy appointment with my mother. She held her hand through every needle and even cried with my momma when she couldn’t bear the sadness alone. Payton and my father bought her groceries and even provided her with a place to live during her hardships.

My step-mother took care of her because she understood the bond between a mother and her child. She didn’t want me to lose the one person she knew I cared so deeply for, the one connection she knew I couldn’t live without. Yet Payton never spoke of this to me.

“Forgive me,” I asked her one night in the same kitchen our arguments had often erupted. “I couldn’t comprehend how difficult it must have been for you. I didn’t realize what you did for my mother,” and without hesitation, she forgave me.

It takes a selfless woman to love children that are not her own, and it takes a kind heart to care for someone in their darkest time of need.

For Payton, I am endlessly grateful.

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