Most moms and dads I know have strong opinions about what it means to be the parent of a 3-year-old. Some of us rejoice in leaving the terrible twos behind, only to discover that 3-year-olds have tantrums, too, and that they're louder, stronger and more emotional than a year prior.
We've done potty dance after potty dance and doled out more stickers, jelly beans and other bribes than we can count. We've celebrated the arrival of the big kid bed and shared the same exhausted sigh of love and frustration when those little feet come running down the hall in the middle of the night.
Yet, in our house, somewhere amidst all the changes and transitions, new rules and countless negotiations, a little person has emerged.
I am in awe of my daughter, fueled with the same kindness and curiosity that propelled her through her early toddler years, but now with the words and - to my surprise - the understanding, to put those feelings of empathy to use. My 3-year-old loves her imaginary friend, Karen, and belts out Katy Perry and Carly Rae Jepsen. She's obsessed with her Mickey pajamas and is strongly opinionated about how she wears her hair each day. She plays, imagines and gets lost in complicated games of make-believe with her 6-year-old sister.
She is beginning to choose her own friends - sweet, good friends - who make her feel happy and calm. Being 3 means that she's learning letters, numbers and concepts and can appropriately participate in family conversation.
She literally is growing and maturing before my eyes. And yet, she still calls anything in the past "last year" and anything in the future "Thursday." Being potty proficient has been a challenge and there are still mornings where she begs (aka screams and cries) for chips and other treats for breakfast.
Some parents loathe 3, understandably exhausted from the daily demands of a frequently frustrated child. I've had those days too. Lots of them. But 4 is weeks away and 5 and 6 will come even faster.
My baby is her own person now with opinions and ideas, with legitimate concerns, with thoughts about what she wants to be when she grows up. Being 3 isn't easy, but becoming 4 is extraordinary.
Elizabeth Abrams is a Chicago mom of two and a TV producer.