Its not often a daytime soap opera can send you down an existential rabbit hole, but that’s exactly what happened to me lately. For the uninitiated (or those who have full, interesting lives) Home & Away is an Australian soap set in a small seaside town with the focus on teenagers with their mega beach bods and a few adults who mentor / foster/ teach them. I’ve been watching it on and off since it started in 1988. We’ve basically grown up together. I’d actually have a good shot of winning a trivia quiz on Home & Away if such a thing existed.
What set me off this time was the return of Roo, a crazy, sexy blond teenager back in the early days, whose exploits included a teenage pregnancy, a nearly-wedding & boyfriends a plenty. She left after a couple of years. I think she went to New York. Recently her grown up daughter Martha showed up and –as is the want of soap characters- went through an exhausting number of major life events in a 6 month timespan – including a pole-dancing career, cancer, marriage, divorce, remarriage, widowhood, violent death of new true love, reincarnation of true love & disappearing into a witness protection program.
Anyway, Roo recently showed up after an absence of two decades or so with a head transplant (so common in soaps), long brunette locks, a taste for wine, good looking blokes (this is Oz remember) & getting into trouble.
Hence the rabbit hole. The actress who plays Roo now is this older, beautiful woman, who sometimes acts like a teenager, has a successful career in both PR and waitressing and shares a rented house with a failed rock star. She really got me confused. She wasn’t fitting into any of the typical age-defined stereotypes. She was too old to be acting wild and too young to have a grown up daughter. Too successful to be so irresponsible. Too sexy to be so wise. It didn’t help that she expertly portrayed a thoroughly grown up ex-nun / uber nurse / grieving widow on All Saints – another Aussie soap. ( I do have a life outside television, I swear).
I have to admit I googled her. She’s 47, just a few years older than me. On the show, she’s 42. MY AGE. Stone the crows Roo! Could this be correct? Really? Frantic calculations and revisions followed me down the rabbit hole. What if I’d had a teenage pregnancy, I’d now have a grown up kid. What if I’d have stayed single? I’d be drinking wine and flirting my ass off with unsuitable men. On and on it went. What if I had more kids? Fewer kids? No kids at all? What if I’d gone to Australia that time? Gone out with that other guy? Gotten that job? Avoided that credit card? Went back to full-time employment? Confronted that person? What if? What if? What if?
Many hours were spent staring at my bedroom ceiling, going over my life. Some folks might call it a mid-life crisis. I don’t really have time for one of those – the kids need to be fed. I just had a little bit extra to think about.
I turned on my lunchtime fix of Home & Away. The teenagers and their perfectly tanned bods were cavorting in the surf. Falling deeply in love for oh several days at a time and moving swiftly on to the next shallow crisis. Then it hit me. I wouldn’t be them for all the world. I’d be Roo any day. Actually, I’d rather be Ann. I’d rather be me. When I look beyond the trivia and frustrations of my day to day existence, I see my life as the sum of my experiences, my decisions. And actually, its pretty much all good. Its all full. I still am the exuberant teenager, the confused twentysomething, the sensible mother, the foolish lover. I am all of the above any time I choose to be. I’m old enough to have made memories and young enough to keep making them. I’ve come so far, but can still change course. This process of growing up never ends – its more a growing into yourself. And that’s a long-term, gentle thing that doesn’t require you to live at the frantic pace of a soap opera.
I probably won’t move to Australia, and that’s okay. But I just might learn how to surf. It won’t be pretty, or perfect, but it will be mine. Oh yes, mine, all mine. So cheers Roo darl, fair dinkum.