It began with crippling depression and dark thoughts, but with a quick and drastic medication change the mental health professionals described me as “suffering mania” while I was in that private psychiatric rehabilitation facility. Suddenly, I felt excited, hot and sweaty but had the energy of a pre-schooler who’d inhaled several candy floss sticks at their first bi-annual fair. I felt alive to the point of sensory overload and I could have talked the leg of a chair at the speed of lightning.
When my poor old Dad came to visit, he pretended not to notice. He acted as though everything was fine. He played it cool and tried to subdue me with normality of generic conversations. I unimaginably convinced him to take me on an hour accompanied leave because I needed coffee. So, we perhaps mistakenly embarked on an adventure to give myself (that ‘manic’ girl) her fix of caffeine. As we made the fifteen-minute walk back from the coffee shop I recall the wind whipping my face.
I could smell the pending rain and it smelt of freedom. I ran ahead the told Dad that I knew people in that ward (my fellow co patients) who desperately needed cheering up. So, I concocted an idea to steal flowers (mainly roses, sunflowers, hydrangeas and the odd tulip) from every spring garden we passed to make posies. Dad didn’t seem keen to begin with, but I pressed him.
I briefed Dad quickly and excitedly, “These people have gardens full of flowers. They might not even notice if we take some. I’ll be like Robin Hood taking from the privileged to give to the needy. None of us have any money to buy flowers.” And, that was true, but Dad knew as well as I did that’s because we were quickly spending pension or part time wages on cigarettes, alcohol and some of the motley crew even on gambling.
So, it was that the usual fifteen-minute walking route took an hour while I leaned up against, over and under fences, snuck up to porches and crept through stranger’s yards like a tom cat on a mission. I stole bundles, each collection bringing back some posies complete with hydrangeas back to Dad who stood stoically keeping a lookout while I clutched more floral treasure. He’s an honest man and had the circumstances been different he never would have agreed. But he couldn’t reckon with me and didn’t want me in trouble so refused to let me go it alone.
Eventually on one of the final houses before the hospital an old Eastern European woman shouted out as I approached her porch on my hunt for a sunflower and I shrieked a little ‘busted’ shriek as we ran away with our stash. I suspect this scene had been played out at her place before.
The excitement was dizzying and the wind equally exhilarating when she gave chase on her one stick walker, but she only ever made it to the letterbox. She wasn’t quick enough for me (the manic girl) and my blood bound paternal accomplice. And so, it was that Dad and I committed theft together for the first and only time.
For a man who prides himself on being ‘as honest as the day gone by, I give my Dad credit for meeting me where I was at in terms of mood and mental state. It wasn’t dangerous or reckless, but rather silly with a side of disrespect but in that moment my Dad let his morals slide, and pledged allegiance to his daughter who needed him.
By the time we got back to the hospital we were both puffed out, red faces and looked like we may have been part of a travelling road show for ‘Better Homes and Gardens.’ We eventually found vases at the hospital, I made some unexpected deliveries to grateful co- patients in need of a lift and boy did they bring some cheer and of course I kept a few of those flowers for myself.
But as my previously escalated mood dropped along with my manic state, so too did the petals start to fall from the high. And as the mood stabilizers and anti- psychotics kicked in we wilted (both me and the flowers). Eventually they went in the bin and the nurse insisted on washing out my vase the same way I felt. But what I’ve been left with ever since is a vivid memory of that experience with my poor dear old Dad. Here was a man with grey to white hair aged in his 60’s for a moment being conned by his manic daughter into a silly game of Robin Hood down a highway on a walk back to her psychiatric facility.
And so now every-time I see colourful vibrant petals on flowers I’m drawn to them as a symbol of stoic love. They remind me of being manic with dizzying heights, of being silly and erratic in the wind in Spring on a highway along an inner suburban Melbourne street. All the while conning my old man into joining in. And I will forever be grateful that for a precious moment in time my sensible, honest and straight-laced Dad (who is generally a paternal figure far greater than a friend in crime) recognized that this moment wasn’t about him. It was about his sick daughter, and in that moment, he was willing to go along with whatever it took to make her happy in that instant.
And as a parent my take-away message from this is clear. There is a time and a place for almost anything in bonding and parenting. As adults, we need to feel embarrassed, do ridiculous things, and feel challenged to grow as parents alongside our youngsters through the trials and tribulations in order to build a rapport with our kids and meet them exactly where they are at.
Parenting is not all discipline and keeping kids in check. Our own boundaries and comfort zones need to be pushed as much as our children’s do, and our relationships need to bud and memories of adventures together are important. Most of all the love will be all the stronger, deeper and more colourful for it… just like a good floral arrangement.