Being the parent of a toddler is mentally and physically exhausting. The years from one to three seem to stretch to eternity.

My kids were both horrible sleepers, waking up several times a night and getting up for the day around 5 a.m. Each went through the dreaded “terrible twos” with tantrums, crying, and transforming into red-faced monsters. They were both clingy and only ever wanted me.

I didn’t think I would miss anything about those years. I rolled my eyes when people said things like “cherish every moment.” How could I cherish anything when I was barely functioning – barely keeping my kids fed and relatively clean?

And then one day, it was all over.

My children are not toddlers anymore. My son is now eight and my daughter is five. This year, my daughter walked through that door to kindergarten, and became a big kid. 

Now that I have the time, I’ve started to reminisce about the things I’ll miss from toddlerhood. Here are the top ten things I love – in hindsight! – about my kids’ toddler years:

Their chubby hands.

Kids’ bodies change so much as they grow up, but I never realized their hands would transform so much too. Baby and toddler hands are made up of chubby little palms and stubby fingers, always reaching out for something they’re not supposed to have. They’re usually sticky for no real reason, but they’re still so kissable.

The cute way they used to talk.

Toddler voices are adorable. Their little speech impediments, their made-up words, and their beginning language is so endearing. This is the first time they are really attaching meaning to words — when they say “goose,” you know it means juice and give it to them. It’s an amazing and magical time.

Cuddles.

There is nothing on this planet like a toddler cuddle. I resented it when I still had to rock my daughter to sleep for her naps when she was two, but I would love to do that again. Just once.

Reading.

Now that my son is in second grade and my daughter is in kindergarten, they can both read (to varying degrees). I still read to them, but not in the same way I did when they were toddlers. We would sit for so long, reading, and pointing at the pictures. I really loved when they held the books and pretended to read them to me.

Naptime.

Some parents hate having to structure their days around naptime, but I liked it. Just knowing that quiet time was built into the day gave me a sense of peace. Also, I loved going to get them from their rooms after their naps, their cute, still-sleepy faces smiling at me.

Taking them to the park.

The park is a magical place for a toddler because so many things are new. As parents, we get to feel some of that magic the first time we push our toddlers on a swing, or help them use a public drinking fountain. Seeing the world as new through your child’s eyes is one of the most amazing things about being a parent.

Camaraderie with other moms.

There are no friendships like the ones you form with other moms. Your mother and your husband can’t possibly understand what you’re going through the same way another toddler-mom can. I was lucky to be part of a play group where I could hang out with other moms and their kids. I keep in contact with many of the moms from my children’s toddler days, but family schedules change a lot once kids start elementary school.

Their little loveys.

Toddler loveys become an honorary part of the family. My daughter has a stuffed lynx called Lynxy who was nearly as important to me as he was to her. We lost him once temporarily, and I was surprised at how emotional I felt about it.

Their musical toys.

I always hated their loud toys that played annoying little songs, but I sometimes find myself feeling choked up when I hear those songs now. 

Being their whole world.

Unlike big kids, toddlers look to you for everything in their lives: food, comfort, entertainment, and love. At the time, it was oppressive and overwhelming for me to be so responsible for another human being. But as my kids have grown, I’ve realized how special the bond between us was during in their toddler years.