I stood there, absolutely beaming with pride, trying to maintain some level of chill, as my mother-in-law asked me for a recipe for the dinner I made. She asked me! She ate the food I had made by myself, liked it, and then asked ME how to make it.

For literally half of my life, I’ve called/texted/FaceTimed/run to her for advice on everything mother/wife/life-related and have often felt like I was taking so much and giving so little. I depended on her transfer of knowledge to help shape the person I would become.

She gave me everything she would have given her own children, and I could not have married into a better family

Even before I was her daughter-in-law officially, she was more to me than just my boyfriend’s mom.

She gave me stability and a sense of home when I was lacking it. She invited me over for meals when she already had a full table and many mouths to feed. She sewed things that needed to be fixed, gave me encouragement in my endeavors, and when that time finally came to actually become her daughter, nothing really changed because I already was.

RELATED: To My Mother-in-Law, Thank You For Loving Me As a Daughter

And when I became a mom myself? Oh, she was most instrumental in me being the mom I am. What an example of how to do it right I’ve had. She raised seven kids in a house with one bathroom. (Saint status, hello!) My kids would come to think she hung the moon and I always agreed wholeheartedly

Wow. How was I ever going to repay her? 

I knew this one measly, thrown together sheet pan dinner wasn’t going to relieve me of nearly 20 years of debt to her. The anxiety of just how large that tab was started to sit very heavy on my chest. 

What if she ever put me in emotional collections, and I no longer had access to the seemingly unlimited line of credit for support and comfort?

I started to tabulate all the things she had done for me, and my head started spinning with the miles-long list . . .

Meals she made.

Hugs she gave.

Hands she held.

Times she prayed. 

RELATED: To My Mother-in-Law: Thank You For Being More Than I Ever Expected You To Be

My racing thoughts started going along to the tune of “I’ll Be Missing You” for some reason, and that, in conjunction with the absolute mountain of IOUs I had compiled, had me getting teary-eyed. 

I turned my back in the kitchen and started to cry a little. The quiet kind where the tears just fall, and you’re able to play it off like you aren’t crying as long as no one is looking right at you.

At that moment, I wanted to get down on my knees and beg her to accept the quesadilla I made as an installment on a special payment arrangementthat I was going to make good on my outstanding promissory notes. 

She came up behind me and without saying anything, put on rubber gloves and started washing the dishes that piled in the sink. “You made dinner, so I’ll clean up,” she said in that angelic tone I knew so well. 

I heard a cash register cha-ching in my mind as I added this one act of kindness to the growing-by-the-minute list. 

RELATED: My Mother-In-Law Saved My Life

I know that even if I did think of some way to repay her for everything, or even a settled fraction of the amount I owed her, she wouldn’t take it. She’d deflect and downplay. She’d laugh it off and say it was nothing. She’d sneak my payment back into my pocket when I wasn’t looking. She is the never-ending bank of love. 

I wiped away my silent tears and said out loud, “One meal down . . . only a million more until we’re squared up.”

Nickey J Dunn

I'm a full-time wife, mom of three, employee, OCD Irish Aries. I'm originally from the Pacific Northwest, now living in Phoenix. I'm passionate about my family, writing, and writing about my family. Mental health, anti-bullying, and body-positive advocate.