After Dinner With My Daughter

David Foster, L.Ac.
9 min readFeb 21, 2024

The mornings have been hellfire. You’re just over 21 months — not 21 years, yet you refuse to get out of bed, as if you’d been out late the night before smoking weed with your friends. Instead, your oral fixation is the boob, much to your mother’s deserved sense of pride, and we both suppose if we didn’t yank you up and out you’d lay there the entire day. “Breakfast in bed” if you will, nursing, comforted, surrounded by your favorite person in the world without a care in it. Who could blame you?

Your latest charged refusal, inexplicably as goes the etiology of most toddler preferences, is against having your diaper changed in the morning. I’m not sure how to put into words the emoji of the shrugging girl with her hands up and head tilted. I don’t get it. You fight and scream, literally twist, kick, and scream, as I simply try to give you clean underwear and an outfit.

Maybe you’re aware that it’s the precursor to the day to come. A day away from Mommy and Daddy, away from the boobs and home, at pre-school. I guess no matter how wonderful any given one is, school fundamentally sucks, from the cradle to the grave, the latter of which alluding to its surname, “work.” Nevertheless, this couldn’t explain your aversion to breakfast.

Daddy goes over the top, adhering to the recommended diet of the Eastern Medicine he practices. Eggs and cooked seasonal vegetables, probably 350 days a year with a few exceptions for holiday pancakes or lazy oatmeal, yet you resist and evade the coffee table as if we were serving steamed bitter melon and caviar. There’s butter in it, for God’s sake!

You prefer to run around the living room playing with toys and “toys,” the latter of which are heavy and sharp-edged parts of the construction site that is still our new home. Fruit gets thrown all over the new couch. (Cashew) yogurt pouches get demanded then denied, tantrums thrown over incoherent requests. You want to be picked up, you want to be put down, you want to hold the steak knife, crawl into the hot oven, empty the refrigerator, anything but eat or get dressed.

Time is of the essence, a drawback to suburban commuter life. I’d love to be out the door by 8:20, but I must be out the door by 8:26; I don’t give a shit if the baby is naked in a puddle of her own piss with strawberry yogurt painting the walls and my wife in nervous breakdown on the living room rug while Ben Aaron hops around in joyful hijinx in the background on the PIX11 News. I’m out. We have to pack your lunch, pack your snacks, pack our lunch, label your snacks, make our tea to go, clean up after breakfast, take our supplements, get dressed, make sure I have everything I need in my bag to be a functioning member of society, change your fucking diaper and go to war to dress you, as if we were pulling you to the gas chamber.

If there’s time pull the car up to the foot of the driveway to avoid the half-mile walk to our disconnected garage. I’m exaggerating. Life’s hard. But still it is. By the time I kiss you goodbye, forced to watch your face turn red, eyes squint into waterworks, I can only imagine in fear of never seeing Daddy again, it feels for me like a return to humanity. I feel my central nervous system down regulate, my breakfast start to digest, my heart stops pounding, and I am overcome with gratitude that my work here is done. I’m off to literal work. It doesn’t feel real until I’m halfway to the train station. I am a guy in the world — not only some pauper participant in this psychotic cartoon paradigm of parenthood. I care not for the disaster the kitchen looks like, nor the hundreds of toys peppered around the living.

The evenings have been easier. You seem to prefer dinner, a typical American I suppose. While we eat we listen to the Moana soundtrack, or Little Mermaid or Bluey, really anything that will encourage self-nourishment on your part (just no TV — don’t even try it, bitch), and we sit in the living room discussing our day, occasionally playing musical chairs against our will, squatting over pink, plastic seats that can contain only one of my ass cheeks, eventually finishing my food at a resounding room temperature. Eventually you eat, if not before my threat/bribe then at least in response to it. If you don’t eat we can’t go outside. I’m still not sure how to navigate this come February in the northeast.

Our after-dinner routine since moving to the ‘burbs has been a 15–20 minute walk around the hood, just you and me while Mom cleans up (sometimes). This ritual has been one of my favorite parts of parenthood, also one of my favorite parts of moving out of the city (not that we couldn’t do it in the concrete jungle, but there is something about just tumbling out onto your porch onto the sidewalk that is admittedly charming). Since dialogue with a two-year-old can be rather mundane and most of what you care is to run and prance freely anyway, I start by playing some of my music on my phone. I usually make it to the third bar of the first verse before you turn and request: “MONA!” (Moana)

Dutifully switching tracks to Moana, you are invigorated. It speaks to you the way my music does me, the way most sane peoples’ do to them. Somehow you identify with Moana, you identify as her, occasionally exclaiming your own personalized chant at random: “I’M… PEY!” followed by the funny, audible flapping of your tongue in lieu of saying “water.”

The music induces a sprint, complete with arms flailing, hair trailing behind you, and I jog in pursuit, not only to keep you from running into traffic, but also to fuel your fire. I hold my phone down as close to the back of your head as possible to facilitate this joy. I get it. There are few things in life that I don’t enjoy doing more with my favorite jams playing as soundtrack; as my daughter I figure you to be the same. Eventually you tire, you slow to a walk along with the music and request: “Hold Daddy’s hand,” and I melt. Who wouldn’t? We hold hands for as long as she desires because that’s how things go with your child. We are the boss of the pragmatics, the objective and physical realm until puberty, but from the moment they are born they are the dictators of our connection.

When we make it near the end of the block there’s a small grassy hill in front of the senior center where we always play the same game. I remain on the sidewalk, you climb to the top of the hill, and we run parallel to one another, as fast as you can until the benches in front of the complex. I’m never sure whether we’re racing or if we’re on the same team, or what the hell is going on, but what’s apparent is how thrilled and amused you are by it all. I can’t recall the last time I’ve seen someone laugh as hard as possible while simultaneously running as fast as possible. It’s just lovely.

When our neighbors moved out and their only child was growing too big for the trampoline in their backyard they gifted it to us, and on many nights it has replaced our walk down, your choice of course; though the soundtrack is constant. If not Moana, we play Mermaid or Bluey, which incites higher bouncing and funnier falls. We bounce on opposite sides of the trampoline, you lost in your own world, me in awe of your world. Boredom arrives quickly and the routine shifts to hopping, dancing in circles around the trampoline. You find it so fun, so funny, and there is nothing in the history of my life more adorable than this image.

Eventually we return to bouncing at opposite poles. We change the soundtrack and/or rewind to listen to the same songs over and over. I understand. At the age of 45 I am still this way when I discover dope new shit. Your arms go up at my feet and the moment is bittersweet. There are few beings more perpetually exhausted than a new old dad. My shoulders, my low back, my entire being needs a break, but the most beautiful being I’ve ever known wishes to be held, cuddled, loved. Herein lies the perfect metaphorical dichotomy of parenthood.

For our final act you request (semi-verbally) that Daddy hold you up at his height and bounce (almost) as high as he can, so you can see and feel what I see, what it’s like to fly, all the while your face inches away from your (second) favorite person in the world. We’ll do about ten bounces, and somehow you find each of my bellowing grunts of struggle even more hilarious than our previous dance around the perimeter. Your head tilting back, looking up the sky, a smile ear to ear, your flushed cheeks puffed out, and baby teeth spackled across the most entrancing smile I’d ever seen. Meanwhile my intent focus is on supporting your neck and upper back (acupuncture knowledge is beneficial in fatherhood) and landing properly on my own old, rickety knees. If I didn’t stop I doubt you ever would, not unlike nursing Mommy in bed in the morning, nevertheless we both appear somewhat fatigued when the final set of doubles is done; and we collapse onto the mat.

One night you requested I lay down next to you there, surrounded by the leaves and shrubbery fallen from the trees above. “Daddy lay down!” Nothing has ever been easier to accommodate. You don’t wish to cuddle — that’s okay — just to lie next to me, your head next to mine, not gazing into each other’s eyes or anything like that, but up at the sky, visible mostly in broken up shapes and fragments between the trees’ drying leaves and frayed branches. I’m more jaded by life and fatigue, so to me it doesn’t look like much, but I see it now through your eyes, wondering what you see, what you’re thinking, and how it makes you feel.

“The sky,” I point out, in the stupid grown-up habit of ruining everything with verbalization, but you humor me nonetheless, pointing, smiling, just happy to be with Daddy. The temperature outside is perfect — a rarity in the northeast — we are not doing anything, not achieving anything beyond our love and I wish I could freeze this moment forever.

Instead, the moment is over almost as soon as I feel it, as go the behavioral tendencies of toddlers. Even as we laid there I’m not confident your body ever completely stopped moving, surely a leg twitching or your cute little dome shifting from side to side.

More bouncing, “more Mona!” you insist, but it’s time to go inside, time for your bath, and we return instantly to the raging resistance of the morning’s energy, as if five seconds ago was five years ago. I yank you off the trampoline, carry you inside against your will, desperately clinging your powerful body in my left “baby arm,” desperately clinging to the memory of shared joy.

Whenever young parents complain about their hardships people are quick to remind us, cherish it now, because before you know it they’ll be 18, and you’ll wish you had. An unfortunate and unfair platitude of course. It’d be like someone requesting you eat the world’s finest creme brulee, which in the beginning is a delightful experience, but then for some reason you are not permitted to stop eating it. You have to eat two, three, ten, 100 creme brulees, which for even the wildest sugar fiend would be utterly nauseating. Then tell them: Enjoy it. Enjoy ALL of the creme brulees, because one day you will be forbidden from ever having sugar again, and boy will you miss it. The latter scenario sounds awful, difficult beyond the imagination of most, but the former instance of gluttony would kill you dead in your tracks, as would having a two-year-old in perpetuity. Most of early parenthood is manual labor. It is only fun and beautiful, adorable, or magical in small spontaneous snippets of each day or week. For these I hope my love of language, my insistence on verbosity is an adequate tool by which to hold onto the many episodes of our bond. Love, Daddy



David Foster, L.Ac.

Acupuncturist and Chinese medicine in NYC, special focuses in neurological, psychiatric, orthopedic, and autoimmune conditions. Hip Hop Head, '88-'98