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An old backpack and a pile of presents | Source: Midjourney & Flickr
An old backpack and a pile of presents | Source: Midjourney & Flickr

My Stepmom Gave Me a Used School Bag for My Birthday While Her Kids Got Pricey Gifts – Karma Finally Caught up with Her

Prenesa Naidoo
May 14, 2024
03:21 A.M.

After Kayla's mother leaves her, her father raises her to the best of his ability. Things are fine until he meets Tanya, her stepmother, who joins the family with her daughters. Things seem fine until tragedy hits and Kayla's father dies, leaving her in the care of Tanya—where she is forced to decide what to focus on while she's under Tanya's roof.

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My mother was never meant to be a mother. She said exactly that to my father when I was about three months old, and then she left.

A woman holding a baby | Source: Pexels

A woman holding a baby | Source: Pexels

"I'm sorry, Collin," she told him while packing her bags. "But this just isn't the life for me. I cannot do this. I don't know how to be a mother, and I don't know if I want to try anymore."

"But Kayla needs you," my father said.

"I'll do more damage if I stay," she said, tears streaming down her face.

And then she walked out of our lives.

A crying woman holding a mug | Source: Pexels

A crying woman holding a mug | Source: Pexels

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For years, my father relied on my grandparents to help raise me, and they did a good job of making me feel loved and cared for, despite the fact that my mother had chosen to leave me behind.

"It's difficult, I know," my grandmother said while we sat at the table one day. "But you need to remember that being a parent isn't for everyone, Kayla. Sometimes people only realize that too late."

A girl sitting with her grandmother | Source: Pexels

A girl sitting with her grandmother | Source: Pexels

I understood my grandmother's logic—it made sense to me. This was beyond my control. But at the same time, there was nothing easy about accepting the fact that my mother had chosen to leave me—that loving me wasn't enough.

But as I grew, my father became more and more important to me—he was the one person who would do anything for me.

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A father and daughter embracing | Source: Pexels

A father and daughter embracing | Source: Pexels

It was us against the entire world.

But then when I was twelve, my father met Tanya at my school. She had a set of twins who were a grade above me, and they met at a school fundraiser.

"Kayla, we're really spending our Saturday at your school?" my father grumbled to me as he took one of the containers of cupcakes from the car.

Chocolate cupcakes | Source: Unsplash

Chocolate cupcakes | Source: Unsplash

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"It's just for a few hours," I told him. "And then we can leave. I know you and Uncle Jim want to watch the game on TV."

My father laughed, and we walked to the football field with the baked goods. We set up everything, waiting for Bake Day to begin so that we could sell our cupcakes and head out.

A person watching football | Source: Pexels

A person watching football | Source: Pexels

And then, Tanya and her twin girls, Allie and Avery, showed up, setting their containers of brownies next to mine.

"Oh, no!" Tanya shrieked, almost dropping a container as she tripped on a tablecloth, causing my father to rush to her rescue.

He caught the container, set it right, and helped unhook the piece of tablecloth that had caught on Tanya's shoe.

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A smiling woman | Source: Pexels

A smiling woman | Source: Pexels

That was the beginning of the end.

My father and Tanya exchanged numbers, and by the end of the fundraiser, they had made plans to meet for dinner the following week.

Two years later, they were married—with Allie, Avery, and I as bridesmaids.

A bridal couple holding hands | Source: Pexels

A bridal couple holding hands | Source: Pexels

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And for once, I learned what it was like to have a mother.

At first, things were fine—Tanya did the necessary things for me.

"Just be careful," my grandmother told me. "She's just being nice because your father married her. Wait until the dust settles. But for your sake, my darling, I hope she's everything you need her to be."

A girl with her grandmother | Source: Pexels

A girl with her grandmother | Source: Pexels

It was as if Gran's words had conjured the nasty side of Tanya. She went from being caring to losing the plot with me. I began to see the difference in how she treated me compared to the way she treated the twins.

"Don't worry about it," my father said when we went for a run together—recently, his cholesterol had been absolutely high, and as per doctor's orders, he had to start living a healthy life.

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Two people jogging | Source: Pexels

Two people jogging | Source: Pexels

"It's not the fact that the twins are getting new things," I said. "It's the fact that she doesn't even try to make me feel like I deserve them, either."

"It's been Tanya and the girls for a long time, love," my father said, stopping to catch his breath. "They only know each other."

Twin teenage girls | Source: Pexels

Twin teenage girls | Source: Pexels

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We walked back home, and my father told me that despite the way I felt, he would always be there for me.

Until he wasn't—just weeks after my 15th birthday, my father passed away from a heart attack in his own bed. The funeral was a blur, and I realized that I had no parents left. It was the way it was.

A person wearing a black veil | Source: Pexels

A person wearing a black veil | Source: Pexels

Tanya cried her heart out at the funeral, putting on the biggest performance of her life—showing all the guests that her tears equated to her love for my father.

"You can always come to me," my grandmother said, holding my hands at the burial.

People carrying a coffin | Source: Pexels

People carrying a coffin | Source: Pexels

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But I knew that I couldn't. My grandmother had gotten old and frail, and just before he died, my father had arranged for her to move into an old-age home so that she could be taken care of.

As time went by, my grandmother's health was on a steady decline, and I knew that even if I considered moving in with her, she would need more care than I could give.

An old woman applying lipstick | Source: Pexels

An old woman applying lipstick | Source: Pexels

A year passed, and I lived in the shadow of my former life—my father's death had changed everything for her, including the fact that Tanya and her daughters treated me less like a family member and more like an inconvenience.

All I did was clean around the house in between school.

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A person dusting a shelf | Source: Pexels

A person dusting a shelf | Source: Pexels

And then it was time for the twins' sweet sixteen birthday party.

"We're going to throw a big bash!" Tanya said. "We need to celebrate my two girls."

So, of course, an extravagant party was planned with my father's money—money that was supposed to be for me and my dreams of college. The twins got new birthday outfits and the latest iPhones that they had been talking about for a while.

A girl holding silver balloons | Source: Unsplash

A girl holding silver balloons | Source: Unsplash

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A few months later, on my birthday, I wasn't exactly expecting a sweet sixteen—but I did think that Tanya and the twins would do a fancy dinner and a cake.

Or so I had hoped—I just wanted to celebrate the moment and be cherished a little bit more. Because this was my first birthday without my father.

A close-up of a person looking down | Source: Pexels

A close-up of a person looking down | Source: Pexels

But, of course, I was disappointed.

On the morning of my birthday, I went down to the kitchen, holding onto the hope that my step-family cared about me and would show me exactly that.

Instead, Tanya had a single cupcake on a plate.

A cupcake with a candle | Source: Unsplash

A cupcake with a candle | Source: Unsplash

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"Happy Birthday, Kayla," she said. "Here you go!"

And she proceeded to hand me my birthday present—one of the twins' old school bags, with her name still stitched on the side.

"This is what you deserve," Tanya said. "Your focus should only be on you and your studies, not about parties and boys."

A person holding a black backpack | Source: Pexels

A person holding a black backpack | Source: Pexels

I was stunned. I couldn't understand what Tanya was about. I knew that she wasn't going to do anything big and special for me, but I really did think that she would have tried to make the day a little different.

But my stepmother's message rang loud and clear: I was nothing more than a reminder of a past best forgotten.

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Alone, in my room, I cried for my late parents. I couldn't believe that I was alone. There was nothing familiar to me anymore, even the house was undergoing renovations because Tanya wanted something new.

A girl sitting on the floor and crying | Source: Pexels

A girl sitting on the floor and crying | Source: Pexels

While my tears fell, I looked at the secondhand schoolbag, a symbol of my stepmother's disdain. I wouldn't let it define my worth.

Instead, it became my motivation.

For the next two years—that bag became my world of defiance against the narrative they tried to impose on me.

A person reading a book | Source: Pexels

A person reading a book | Source: Pexels

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As high school progressed, my quiet determination began to pay off. I immersed myself in extracurriculars, aced competitions, and honed new skills.

"You're doing so well, Kayla," my homeroom teacher said. "Despite the loss of your father. He would be so proud of you."

When graduation came, I was not only at the top of my class but also awarded a full ride to a prestigious university.

A class of graduates | Source: Pexels

A class of graduates | Source: Pexels

Meanwhile, Allie and Avery wasted their advantages—they used whatever Tanya had given them, and content with mediocrity, assured their inheritance would cushion every fall. But life, as I learned, favors the prepared.

Now, years later, I'm sitting in my father's house with a successful career launched straight out of college. I am one of the local vets—the preferred favorite for most pets, and I'm a household name, too.

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This past weekend was my high school reunion. I stood there, ready to deliver the keynote speech that I had spent hours writing, holding onto the school bag at my side.

A person working with a dog | Source: Pexels

A person working with a dog | Source: Pexels

My stepsisters were sitting at a table at the back of the hall, each with their respective husbands.

"To the woman who gave me this bag, thinking it was nothing more than what I deserved, thank you. You underestimated me, and that fueled my journey."

I watched as my sisters exchanged glances, and as I stepped off the stage, I finally felt like I had gotten it right.

A close-up of a smiling woman | Source: Pexels

A close-up of a smiling woman | Source: Pexels

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What would you have done?

If you enjoyed this story, here's another one for you |

Juliet, a single mom, loves raising her nine-year-old daughter, River, by herself. River pushes her to be better. But after a while, Juliet begins to notice fierce independence taking over River—wanting more responsibility and autonomy. But then Juliet discovers a secret that comes with River's backpack, and a hidden friend comes to light.

Read the full story here.

This work is inspired by real events and people, but it has been fictionalized for creative purposes. Names, characters, and details have been changed to protect privacy and enhance the narrative. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

The author and publisher make no claims to the accuracy of events or the portrayal of characters and are not liable for any misinterpretation. This story is provided “as is,” and any opinions expressed are those of the characters and do not reflect the views of the author or publisher.

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