Years ago, my parents were children raising children—my mom had me when she was 17, followed by my sister, Diana, and brother, Gino. We didn't have much money growing up, but my mom made sure we didn't go without. She sewed my sister and me beautiful clothes and even made matching outfits for our dolls! Our home was always filled with music, family, friends and the smell of unbelievable cooking coming from the kitchen. I especially loved Sundays because that's when we would have company over and my mom would wake up early to prepare dinner, which always included pasta and sauce. My dad would put on records, and we would listen to Tony Bennett and Mario Lanza. To this day, when I hear Tony Bennett's voice, I can literally smell sauce!

My mom sacrificed a great deal for all of us when we were growing up, and I only learned and understood about her life when I became an adult. My mother would tell me the real story of how it was for her when she first arrived in this country not being able to speak the language and starting a new life away from her family, friends and life as she knew it. I never knew the hardship she endured because there was never a clue on her smiling face.

Through it all—raising three kids and seeing us all grow up and have families of our own—my mother has experienced great joy, and she is proud of all three of us and her grandchildren. She has taught us all the power of prayer, the power of family and the power of unconditional love. She instilled in us loyalty, dignity and a great work ethic. She taught by example and sometimes worked two jobs at a time so my brother, sister and I could go to the best schools and take piano and dance lessons and more. In fact, my mother would literally drag me to the opera, and as we took our seats in the back of the house, I wanted to kill myself because I was so bored; that is, until one day while attending, I had huge tears rolling down my face from the way the music moved my soul.

My mother is only 17 years older than me, and we are best friends since we are so close in age! I see her slowing down a bit, and to be honest, I'm a bit unnerved by it. It makes me stop and think about a lot of things. She has always been the rock in the family, and that's one of the reasons I look forward to Mother's Day, to honor her.

See what meals Cristina is serving for her family this Mother's Day


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