Saturday, July 14, 2012


I can't believe it's been thirteen years.

But it feels just like yesterday.

I remember finding out I was pregnant.
I took the test right before work. Something you should probably never do if the results may be shocking.
I remember just sitting on the edge of my bathtub and staring at the two dark pink lines.
They had come up instantly.
There was no 3 minute wait.

I stayed in shock for a long time. Not sure how to tell anyone.
After all, I was 22 and single and was raised to know that that was just not how you did things.
I didn't even tell my parents until I was 4 months along.

At the time I lived in the smallest one bedroom apartment ever known to man.
The stove top was practically the same measurements as the bedroom.
If you sneezed hard, you could blow out a window.
But it was what I could afford on my deli worker salary, and Jared's the only person I know who ever got rich off of a deli.

I remember wondering where I'd put a baby.
Worrying I'd have to move back home.
I remember feeling sad I wouldn't have a nursery to decorate.

It was going to be hard, but one thing was for sure. Whether or not to keep the baby was not negotiable.

I don't remember feeling scared, though.
I had been born wanting children.

But all those years of wrapping up Cabbage Patches could never have prepared me for what was next.

Alena Nicole Santorineos was born in room 7 of Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital on July 15th, 1999.
I would later go on to have three of my four daughters in that very same room.
She weighed 7 lbs. 2 oz. and was 19 inches long.
She was the most beautiful thing I had ever laid my eyes on.

I'll never forget the feeling the first time they laid her naked, just-born body on my chest.
She immediately turned her little face up towards mine and squinted to see me.
It was like she was sizing me up.
Making sure I was prepared for the job.
Like she was saying,
"So. Are we in this thing together, or what?"

There was a lot of bustle that day. Grandparents being called. Visitors popping in. Passing her back and forth. I barely got to see her.

But then night came and we said our goodbyes.
Visiting hours were over.
Time to rest.
But I couldn't.

I will never forget sitting in that quiet room with the murmur of the tv on in the background. There was just one dim light on as I sat up and laid her between my legs on the bed.

Who was this little person?

The heaviness of sole responsibility laid heavy on me.
I prayed over her and her future.
I prayed for myself.

Then I started to unwrap.
Layer by layer,
until there she laid.

She was so tiny!
Red and wrinkled and completely asleep.

I was overwhelmed by the wonder of that moment.
It remains in my mind as one of the most life changing moments I've ever had.

Like putting a drop of food coloring into water and watching it spread until slowly it's all transformed.

-The moment when it hit me that it was just her and me-

The two of us were a family.
I was responsible to feed her and clothe her and to make her a PERSON.

I can honestly say that that moment turned me into who I am today.

And now she has grown.
I hardly recognize her.
Did that beautiful thing that's as tall as I am really come from ME?


I think back to being annoyed when, at three, she HAD to give a sticker to every person who walked through our door.
"Alena! Not now, Honey! They might not even want one of those!"

I remember fussing at her that she really didn't need to bring 15 books with her everywhere that she went. (something she STILL does)

I remember her fascination with Sleeping Beauty and how she'd fall asleep with this old fabric rose we had clutched to her chest so she'd be prepared for True Love's kiss.

I remember worrying that surely she was Autistic because she didn't so much PLAY with her Polly Pockets, but she categorized their clothing into rows based on type and color.

I remember all this and I can't help but think that I didn't hold on enough.

Maybe when she came out with an arm-full of books, instead of fussing, I should have just helped carry.
Maybe I should have worn my stickers with pride, instead of peeling them off before I went out in public.
Maybe I should have told her more that she didn't need to pretend to be a princess.
She already was.

We had it hard.
It was lonely and hot in that one bedroom apartment.
Money was tight, and I was so tired.

And in between the giggling, tickling times, there were times I wanted to bang my head on the wall.

But that little girl made every long day worthwhile.
The feel of her hand in mine was so comforting, because it meant I'd never be alone again.
I was hers and she was mine.

As time has passed she has changed so much.
She is smart and beautiful and incredibly funny.
But she isn't the one who has changed the most.
She changed ME.

What a beautiful gift to be given.

She is my helper, my friend, and my most proud accomplishment.

I look at her and think, "I did that."

And what a joyful thing it has been to do.

So Happy birthday to the book carrier.
Happy birthday to the sticker-giver.
Happy birthday to my very first princess.

The one who changed my life.

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