Something distressing happened last Thursday. Our four and a half year old had a major melt down. It was the first one in quite a while. We had been free of them, or that should be, he had been free of them for a long time but something set him off that day. It may not sound like a lot but for those of you who have witnessed your child throwing the mother of all tantrums, you get what I mean. Everyone is left exhausted and upset in the aftermath, least of all the tantrum thrower themselves. The outburst was over something so simple and small I can't remember what it was but there was hot chocolate, a biscuit and a seating arrangement. Although naturally it wasn’t small and simple to him, otherwise he wouldn’t have felt the need to vent so strongly. I managed to diffuse the situation by distraction. I showed him the pictures of the rented house on the beach we are going to in a few weeks. Unfortunately, his big brother was very enthusiastic and put his head in front of the computer screen to have a better look and things escalated again. It was awful. He screamed and roared, sobbed, bawled and snotted everywhere that he couldn't see the pictures. His brothers looked on in alarm and one of them even clamped his hands over his ears in an effort to drown out the noise. I was shaking with the uselessness of it all. There was no talking to him, no calming him down. He slammed doors, screamed and howled some more and threw things about in his fit of rage and frustration. He hated me and everything and everyone. After it all he sat there sucking his thumb with a big red, shiny swollen face on him, his face still looking like thunder. I wanted to hug him and I wanted to shake him. I knew if I approached him too soon, it would only enrage him further so I sat there and waited. He is extremely head strong, stubborn and at the same time, quite sensitive. During that rampage, I saw him as a fifteen year old and it frightened the jeebus out of me. He is starting school in September and as a baby, it took him months to settle into crèche. He was only there for a couple of hours each morning (it's his aunty’s crèche so he was with family!) and he would exhaust himself by crying so hard that he would crawl around looking for a beanbag in which to collapse and fall asleep. He had his hour in Big School two weeks back and was so quiet and shy I saw a different boy altogether. At this stage his brothers had left the room and he was sitting on the chair at the end of the table. I went over, knelt down and gave him a hug. I asked him were we friends and he resisted a little bit but didn't pull away. I took this as a good sign and hugged him a little bit more. I chanced getting rejected altogether and I told him I loved him and I know it's very hard sometimes. No reaction which encouraged me and I kept hugging him and rubbing his back. After a while he put his head on my shoulder and I decided to go for broke. When all else fails in our house, toilet humour is your best bet so I unleashed my inner Dumb and Dumber comedian. I was halfway through my bad taste joke and as soon as he heard the word “poo” I could feel him smile against my shoulder. I shed a little tear then I'll admit, from relief and realising I, too, was jaded after the showdown. I picked him up. The skinny little body of him! The baby had just woken up so I carried my boy down to the bedroom. I put him in my bed and covered him up. He began to talk to me about his various cuts and bruises and I listened for the umpteenth time as he showed me a scar on his hand from an old accident. Something was ringing in my head. His chat was so banal yet so telling. He had my full and undivided attention and he was making the most of it, by any means. The baby was bouncing around in his cot behind us, eager to be free of its confines but I remained concentrated on the small boy tucked up in my bed. His chatter wasn’t important; I think he knew that too, it was more that he had me, all to himself, for that minute. I felt like shit. I always feel like shit simply because I haven't got the time to spend one on one quality time with them all. I love that they are all so close in age. I wouldn’t, I couldn’t, do it any other way. But a direct hard hitting down side is that the stages and phases are very close together. One of them stops roaring and another will start. It's exhausting. He’s a spirited boy, but it doesn’t mean he needs to be “handled” a certain way. I took a long hard look at the situation that day. That evening, Mister Husband had a late appointment and he took Iarla with him. On their return, it was clarified that yes, all he wants is a little attention. Again, the chatter from the boy to and from the meeting was repetitive but he was making full and proper use of there not being any competition from his brothers. I spent a little time sitting on the side of his bed at bedtime, just listening to him babble on. The same stuff he had already told me a couple of times that day. My heart was breaking for him. It was so obvious, so patently clear how ignored he had been feeling. The bad form he had been in the grip of for the last few weeks was his way of vocalising his needs and I neither listened to him nor heard him. I berated myself and for good reason. It’s not ok to say and believe there are not enough hours in the day to tend to your child’s needs. It is much easier to catch a problem, any problem, and nip it in the bud than wait till the matter develops to such an extent it spirals out of control. I don’t think I am being too hard on myself over this, I think I needed that little wake up call. One of my boys was floundering; thoughts of Big School were playing heavily on his mind, he was feeling a bit swamped by the natural capabilities of his older brother and ignored due to the primary needs of his two younger ones. It was easier for me to tend to them and instruct Iarla to watch telly or read a book whilst I did so. I took advantage of knowing that he would give up after a while and go off by himself. Not good enough. Not one bit good enough. I see an improvement already. A reaping of the rewards of that tiny little extra bit of time I spend with him at bed time. That first night, I let him chatter on until he literally had no words left. I tucked him in and gave him his Monster Kiss (our boys believe a monster kiss on the forehead keeps bad dreams at bay) had a little joke with him and finished up by telling him that I loved him very much. The next morning, he sneaked into the bed beside me bright and early. It had been his habit of late to crawl in beside his daddy. Skinny little arms went around my neck and he tightened them as hard as he could, saying he remembered me telling him that I loved him the night before. I don’t know how I didn’t bawl into the pillow. I have made it a priority to spend that bit of time with him before he falls asleep now. During the day when he approaches me with any one of his many thoughts, requests and Show and Tells, I take the time to stop whatever it is I am doing, turn to look at him and listen. Even if I just repeat what he has said to me, and nothing else, he is happy and satisfied that he has been heard and more importantly, his needs have been acknowledged and met. The spontaneous hugs he used to give me, the ones that had had dried up without my even noticing, are back and being doled out regularly once more. My head and heart are light again.