Though my real name is Nicole, I go by “Mommy.” Occasionally I’m “Mom,” but mostly just “Mommy.” Technically, I’m new at this motherhood thing. I’ve only been a mom for eight years, seven months, and six days. In the scheme of things, I’m a newbie. And even though the days and weeks drag on, the years sure pass by quickly.

This week my twin babies turn 3 years old. I guess they’re not babies at all. My boys are potty trained, sleep through the night, speak in full paragraphs and have their own repertoire of knock-knock jokes. But you know how it is: They will always be my babies.

As I sappily reflect on my journey of motherhood, I realize I have learned some amazing things — things I would have never known pre-children. My job as a mom never ends and I have years of learning ahead of me, but here are 12 things I know because I’m a mom:

I know even the tiniest of people have their own big opinions. It does indeed matter if I cut toast into squares or triangles, and it really does matter if they put their shirt or pants on first. Everyone wants a voice. I have to provide my children opportunities to be heard.

1. I know even the tiniest of people have their own big opinions. It does indeed matter if I cut toast into squares or triangles, and it really does matter if they put their shirt or pants on first. Everyone wants a voice. I have to provide my children opportunities to be heard.

2. I know I can’t see my child’s imaginary friends, but they are real. I must always remember to make room for them on the couch, at the table and in the car. Real friends are important, too. Few things can turn a day upside down faster than the moment no one is available to play.

3. I know how important a secret stash of chocolate is to my sanity, and I know it’s OK to hide in the closet to eat said chocolate. I also know I have to be extremely careful because children are smart little detectives and can smell chocolate on my breath, giving me right away.

4. I know never to disregard the power of a good night’s sleep. As tempting as it is to stay up late until the quiet, wee hours of the morning, it’s never a good idea. I can handle just about anything with sleep. And during the long stretch of years when I never slept, a nap was pretty magical, too.

5. I know I can recognize my child’s cry out of hundreds of children — if I listen. And when I listen and then act, I am where I need to be when I need to be there. When that happens, a quiet part of my heart sings so loud and reminds me exactly why mothers are needed.

6. I know now what it means to be a “Mamma Bear.” I feel the heat in my face and the pounding of my heart when someone crosses my child. Whether it’s just a hornet sting or playground bully, watch out — this Mamma Bear fights for her cubs.

7. I know love (and cartoon Band-Aids) make most things better. I’m still amazed the power a kiss has to “make it all better.” And for the upsets too big for a Band-Aid, it’s the love that gets us through the hard stuff.

8. I know that my children make the world more beautiful (figuratively speaking, anyway — at least while they are little). In reality, my feet stick to dried apple juice on the kitchen floor, dirt lines the bottom of the bathtub, and the toys have taken over. But my children’s laughter, bright eyes and random kisses bring light and beauty to those messes. According to the kids, cereal tastes better when eaten off the kitchen floor anyway.

9. I know all of my children are incredibly unique and special. Of course, we are all individuals, but I’m in awe at just how different four people can be. Even my two children who share the same DNA are amazingly unique. And with that knowledge, it’s important that I parent each of them differently.

10. I know to fear the quiet more than worry about the noise. The house can get really loud when the TV is on, toys are running and children are laughing (or screaming). But it’s the quiet moments when I really need to investigate. Those are the moments a bathroom is flooding or a mural is on display in the front room.

11. I know I can do hard things. I prove that truth to myself every day. Motherhood has stretched me to the edge of my physical capacity and required a broad depth of emotion and stamina.

12. I know I am a better person because I am a mother. I love more, laugh more and serve more because I am Mom. Motherhood has exposed my weaknesses, illuminated my strengths and brought me humbly to my knees as I strive to live up to the title of “Mommy.”