This is 3.

It’s your first independent swimming lessons, without me in the pool, your swimming teacher telling me you don’t need me in there anymore.

It’s you going up into the “big kids” room at kindy, smiling and laughing as you run off to join your friends. You used to need me to stay until you’d settled in to the day, now you don’t.

It’s you using the toilet by yourself, getting yourself dressed, and playing happily and independently.

I was so looking forward to this stuff, in the exhaustion and craziness of the newborn and toddler years—but sometimes, I miss you needing me so much.

And then, at night, after the sun has set, your teeth are clean, and you have chosen your bedtime story, I hear your sweet, small voice call out, “Mommy! I need you!” and my heart smiles—because I need you, too.

This is 3.

It’s full of big feelings, and big ways of displaying them.

It’s tears and tantrums and a lot of nos.

It’s loud, busy and constant.

It’s guiding and teaching, and reminding.

It’s developing preferences, strong ones, and a strong will to match.

It’s full of big feelings, and small, sweet ways of showing them, too.

It’s full of snuggles, and kisses, and hand-holding.

It’s just being together, while enjoying the simple things in life.

It’s loving, encouraging and restoring.

It’s developing a personality, a sense of humour, and a vocabulary.

You and I can talk to each other now! We have real conversations, and (most of the time) we understand each other. You played a joke on me yesterday. You knew I was so excited about the real raspberry jam I’d made, and given you for breakfast. You took a bite and grinned at me. “Yucky!” you said, poking out your tongue in disgust, before dissolving into giggles and shouting, “Just tricking you, Mommy!” I thought, kid, you are actually funny. I’m gonna like hanging out with you.

This is 3.

Sometimes it’s a grind.

Sometimes we don’t understand each other, and both of us get so frustrated.

Sometimes we do understand each other, and we get so frustrated.

Sometimes you don’t understand why I say no, or why I need to go to work, or why I need you to hurry.

Sometimes I don’t understand why my message hasn’t sunk in after I’ve repeated it 15 times, yet you respond right away when you hear Rider summon the Paw Patrol: “Mommy, it’s an emergency! Rider needs me!” Perhaps I need to buy you a Pup Pad.

This is 3.

Mostly, it’s delightful.

I’m getting to know you in a whole new way.

You are becoming your own person.

You are gentle, and hilarious, and energetic, and sweet, and caring, and you love animals, trains and your family and friends.

You are starting to make real friends.

You have hobbies, and favorite TV shows.

You have commitments, like swimming lessons and birthday parties.

You have a life, and you delight in the everyday moments and simple pleasures that come with that.

You are happy, and so am I. (It doesn’t hurt that we’re both finally getting some sleep).

I couldn’t be prouder of the person you are becoming, Mr. Three.

This is 3—and I love it.

You may also like:

The Secret No One Told Me About the Toddler Years is How Much I Could Absolutely Love Them

So God Made a Toddler

Three-Year-Olds are Wonderfully Odd Little Creatures

Sally Shepherd

Sally Shepherd is a clinical psychologist, writer and mother. She has a passion for helping new parents adjust to parenthood, and for helping families live their best lives together.