Last year, despite being absolutely delighted to come downstairs to find the living room full of balloons, presents and fairy lights, Ava didn't really comprehend what having a birthday meant.
This year, she really, really did. In fact, she had been practising it for about two months, regularly singing 'Happy Birthday' while presenting herself with gifts (her own toys) she had wrapped in bits of old magazines and newspapers, and then thanking herself profusely.
Turning three was a Big Deal and she wanted to get it bang on.
Luckily enough, Ava's third birthday was bound to be particularly special because we had booked some time ago to have a break in Wales. That meant not only a party, but a party on a beach.
Despite the beginning of the week feeling somewhat like a hurricane, we made the most of the outdoors, collecting shells and paddling in our wellies. The poor weather made the warm pub lunches and log fire evenings even lovelier.
Then, in time for Ava's birthday, the sun came out. Her day could not have been more perfect or exciting. She delighted in Grandma Jill's treasure hunt in the woods at Abermawr, searching for all the little gifts while being careful not to disturb the fairies and miniature Welsh red dragons in their hollows. And the beach, crisp and blustery, was the perfect place to try out the one gift she had asked Dan and I for, something she wanted "sooooo much!" – a kite.
As I watched her standing there, listening carefully to kite-flying instructions, and then holding tight and doing it all by herself, I felt astonished. I could never have guessed, when I drank in all the blueness of my baby girl's eyes on the day she was born, quite how quickly time would seem to go, how quickly she would grow and change.
How much can happen in just a year! About a foot taller, Ava has grown in every sense of the word. She's gone from using a few disjointed words (and sounding a bit Japanese actually) to not only talking in whole sentences, but the sorts of sentences that make for a convincing argument. She got me to give her an ice lolly at breakfast time once.
She has swapped nappies for pants and has begun sleeping (mostly) in her own big bed. She has decided that she actually does like cucumber after all (but she no longer likes Edam). She has developed her own (slightly worrying) fashion sense ("I want to wear my skirt, mummy. You know that skirt? The really short one?"). She's learned how to hit a ball with a bat, how to draw monsters, and how to be a proper big sister. She's learned the real meaning of the words "I love you" (so gratifying!). She has even found her own social life, a life separate from mine, at her nursery.
Of course, Ava has also (as you might well know if you have read this column before), absolutely mastered the art of embarrassing her mother – and turning three gave rise to the perfect opportunity. A few days after we returned from our holiday, when we were setting out to go to the local shop, Ava was still basking in the glow of her birthday.
"How old am I now, mummy?"
"You're three, darling!"
And she excitedly belted off down the road, with me in hot pursuit, calling to her to stop – which would have been fine if she hadn't also been yelling, at the top of her voice: "I'M FREE, I'M FREE!" to the concerned looks of strangers who could not have known that one thing she has NOT learned this year is how to make a proper 'th' sound.
A small part of me sees that little girl getting all tall and grown up and wants to press pause, slow everything down. But every precious moment Ava learns something new, makes a decision for herself, teaches me something – indeed, even the crazy sorts of moments when my daughter manages to make me look like a manic child catcher – they all make for compulsive viewing and I just can't wait for the next instalment. Bring it on!
PS. Just as Ava leaves the Terrible Twos behind her, her little sister follows hot on her heels. Next week, come and meet Ruby as she begins her own Terrible Twos adventures.