Dovie is one of those nine-year-old kids with tools scattered everywhere. He’s got a vise attached to his desk for handy soldering, and sleeps with a screwdriver and wires under his pillow—or at least tries to.

Today’s wires and screws have replaced last week’s carpentry projects, which replaced vinegar and baking soda from last month’s chemistry experiments. Not long ago, he came home with two orphan kitties in need of scheduled bottle feedings every four hours.

Occasionally he tries to cajole me into joining him in one or another of his projects, though usually he’s satisfied if I give him a few minutes to marvel at the light that flashes when this wire is attached to that one, or at the baking soda that explodes when added to the vinegar (or is it vice versa?).

Unfortunately, I am neither Mr. Fix-It nor Mr. Build-It. When at home, I love to read and write, listen to music and chatter with my wife. I also enjoy helping Dovie—and my other children—with their homework. I like cooking. I’ve been known to iron shirts before Shabbat. And I especially enjoy a really good nap. But, when it comes to building and fixing, well, I used to do these things, and I sometimes feel bad that Dovie wasn’t born when I was younger.

My wife and I are similar. Neither of us seek electronic repair, and find little pleasure in taking apart broken fan motors. To my wife’s credit, she and Dovie recently planted cherry tomatoes on our porch. They’re ripening now—the tomatoes, that is—and many mornings Dovie will rush into the kitchen with a little red one clutched in his hand, asking who wants to eat today’s newly ripened tomato. Then he’ll quickly pop it into his mouth, as my wife races to block with her hand the tomato juice exploding past his lips as his teeth chomp down on the juicy tomato. It’s become a regular routine.

In short, Dovie is an active, independent, curious, funny nine-year-old boy, who most evenings has to be called home from whatever adventure he’s up to outside or at a friend’s house.

That’s why I was so surprised, the other night, overhearing a conversation between him and my wife.

Dovie: “Are you going out tonight, Mommy?” (My wife sometimes tutors students.)

“No, sweetie.”

“Are you going to be home?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Good,” he said.


“Do you have anything to do tonight, Mommy?”

“No,” she said.

“Good,” he said.

“Why?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he said. “I was just hoping you’d be home.”


“Do you want me to do something with you tonight?” she asked.

“No,” he said.

“Then why did you ask?” she said.

“I was just hoping you’d be home,” he said.

“And . . . ?” she asked.

“And sit on the couch and crochet,” he said.

“That’s it?” she asked.

“Yup,” he said.

“That’s all you want me to do?” she asked.

“Yup,” he said.

“Just sit on the couch and crochet?” she asked.

“Yup,” he said. “That’s my favorite kind of night.”

And she did—crochet, that is—propped up on our futon couch, feet crossed and dangling, in her favorite faded, softest housecoat, our son as happy as could be puttering with his tools and wires, barely speaking to either of us until it was time for Mom and Dad to prod him into bed.

She spent the evening just like Dovie wanted.

Quality time, Litvin style.

Later, reflecting on what had occurred and talking with my wife about Dovie, I felt affirmed and vindicated. Affirmed, because I have always leaned on the “quantity” side of the quantity vs. quality time debate regarding children and parents. Vindicated, because I could now pretend that the reading, chatting and naptime of my middle age was causing my young Dovie no harm. He didn’t care. He just wanted me around.

To Dovie it seems there is some magic, some essential element in the simple presence of his parents—something sensed, something urgent and elemental that allows his independence and curiosity to flourish.

Perhaps it’s our availability, the knowledge that we are there if he needs us. Apparently he likes it when we’re only a yelp away. Who knows when a strange noise, dark shadow or scary thought might frighten him? Despite his bravado, perhaps he’s worried that he might burn himself with his soldering iron.

What if, from some inner urging that I’ll never understand, he suddenly chooses now as the time to talk with me or his mom about something important—a crisis at school, a problem with a friend, a dream from last night, a bad grade or deed that must suddenly be confessed?

Who knows why for Dovie—or any child—now is the best moment for sharing, rather than before or later when we had or will have more time, when we’d efficiently scheduled our time to be with him and have the important conversation that we’ve been too busy to have all week long? Who knows why Dovie doesn’t open up on schedule, doesn’t choose his time for intimacy with more consideration for my or my wife’s work or social schedules?

We can’t always give it, but here’s what I believe Dovie was asking for when he described to his mom his favorite evening: He wants her to be sitting on the couch crocheting, present and active, but not so engaged in her activities that she doesn’t have time for him, not so engrossed in what she’s doing that she’d be bothered if he came to sit and cuddle next to her when he became tired or lonely or just felt the need for her affection. He wants the freedom and opportunity to interrupt his parents with a question, or to ask that we look at his latest creation or accomplishment. He wants us present, cozy and comfortable, available and interested—not so interested that we’re interfering or oppressive, nor so disinterested that we have no time for his curiosity and discovery, no matter how nonsensical or irrelevant we may find it.

He wants us to be there: napping, or reading, or puttering with flowers, or paying the bills, or talking on the phone, or cutting the grass, or studying, or doing just about anything—as long as we are seen and heard and can be counted on, just in case. He wants that magic, indescribable something that occurs between parent and child when they share the same time and space.

He believes—and I agree—that in the security of our loving presence he can conquer mountains, defeat armies, rule nations, author novels, write poems, manage large companies, compose concerts, design buildings, or solder two wires together on a Tuesday night so that a little bulb lights up and affirms the conquest of his genius and perseverance.

Just sit on the couch and crochet, Mommy, he says. It’s my favorite kind of evening.

And if you do, I’ll traverse the heavens, discover the source of rainbows, search for angels in the dark, and learn to sing from the hollows of my heart until I fall asleep with my head in your lap.