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Three unbelievable years

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On February 6, my daughter will turn three. There will be cupcakes. And presents. And a lot of wondering where all the time has gone.

I'm the first to admit that it's been a blur, but that has nothing to do with time flying cruelly by and her growing up so fast. It's blurry because my daughter's third birthday also represents my third consecutive year without adequate sleep. She's not a sleeper by nature and when she's awake we're up with her.

It's hard to put a number on it, but these days I probably average five to six hours a night at the most. Over three years, almost 1,100 days, I'd estimate that I've lost 2,000 to 3,000 hours of sleep. (I have lots of time to think about that kind of thing when I'm awake.)

The thing is, we really can't blame Elly for any of it because my wife and I failed to follow the very good advice that was given to us by countless parents. I'm a big enough man to admit when I'm wrong.

Take swaddling. Every sleep expert out there recommends you swaddle the hell out of your baby at night time, then transition to a sleep sack, but Elly didn't like it that first night so we didn't do it - it seemed mean to pin her arms and feet, and it made us feel claustrophobic to watch her. So all night long she'd wave her little arms around and kick her little feet, and within a few months she was rolling around in her crib - her developing brain active the whole time. She never learned to lie still, relax and surrender to sleep.

Then there's the whole sleep-training thing we completely botched. At around five or six months some experts (though not all of them) recommend letting your children cry it out so they learn to soothe themselves to fall asleep. The sound of Elly crying always broke our hearts, so we never really seriously tried to sleep train until she was 10 months. By then it was too late. She was walking by then and more active than ever. She was also a creature of habit, and could only fall sleep in our arms, in our laps or in a moving car or stroller - and only then after a bottle of milk.

At 13 months, exhausted beyond belief, we hired a sleep trainer. For $500, she talked us through the process and established a routine for us to follow each and every day. We grit our teeth and let Elly cry herself to sleep, checking in every so often so she would know we were still there (and to sniff her diaper).

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