Celebrating and Owning my 50th Birthday- Just like Oprah Did

Only During a Worldwide Pandemic

Milk Bar’s Birthday Cake mural on my birthday, Los Angeles 2019

Seventeen years ago, I was 33 and the year was 2004. A highlight of my day was watching the Oprah Winfrey Show. I set it to the number one position to record on Tivo, insuring nothing superseded it so I didn’t miss one. I’d look forward to the time I could put my baby down for a mid-day nap to watch the day’s previous episode. Or I’d watch that day’s episode in the evening after putting my baby down for the night. Sitting cross-legged on my couch, I’d give my full attention to my hero on the small screen. Oprah was my teacher who loved teachers and I was a teacher. She made me think, feel inspired, consider possibilities, smile, be moved to tears, and dream big. She was the wise sage with an inviting smile who inspired me to read. I would create a book club with a handful of incredible women friends I’d collected from my life offering me mental stimulation and life support when I feared losing myself to the great responsibility of new motherhood.

With each new episode, I was reminded it’s ok to feel deep emotions and not to run away from them. Oprah showed me the importance of supporting other women and to see how strong we can be when we are given opportunities, room to grow, and a sense of purpose. She showed me by example, how one person can make an enormous difference and to believe in the goodness of (wo)mankind.

I don’t remember where my baby was when I watched Gayle King surprise her BFF, Oprah with a 50th birthday party on national TV. She was likely climbing on and off my lap because I couldn’t wait to watch this special and very hyped-up episode without commercials. Oprah’s star-studded, highly produced surprise “50th Birthday Celebration in Style” began with John Travolta toasting his friend with her favorite Cristal Champagne. Stevie Wonder serenaded with a backdrop of walls of roses. Jennifer Aniston, Halle Berry, Jim Carrey, Tom Cruise, Celine Dion, Tom Hanks, Josh Groban, and Quincy Jones, to name a few, made cameos and shared their immense love and admiration for the woman who changed the world’s perceptions about owning your life and what it meant to live a life worth celebrating.

Before this moment, a majority of women, my grandmothers included, would lie about their age. Or at the very least, they’d feel bad about living and growing in time and space. Oprah not only owned her age but shouted it from the mountain tops, what I’m doing in my own way right now. For a woman who is putting herself out in the public to announce her age so vocally would and still could be career suicide.

As I watched Oprah stop, look around, and take this outpouring of love all in with gratitude, I told myself I too would one day have a big blowout celebration. I too would feel the gratitude from being surrounded by my dear family and friends with great music and great food, everyone I loved there to celebrate my milestone birthday.

Over the next seventeen years, I’d continue to model a giving and loving spirit from Oprah who reminded me to remain present and in the moment and rid myself of my ego by introducing me to Eckhart Tolle. She’d show me how I could manifest with “The Secret” and she continued to remind me to reflect on what is most important. You can only imagine how incredibly thrilled and flat out giddy I was in May of 2020 when the Queen herself shared an image of us on Instagram and Facebook standing side by side as twins. She’d read the article I wrote titled “Oprah and Me” which meant she knew how she inspired me to find my passion to share family stories and find my purpose of spreading mental health awareness.

Oprah’s Book Club on Instagram

Let me backtrack a bit to 1997, the year my mom turned 50. I’d just turned 26, was dating my future husband for almost a year at that point and was teaching my third kindergarten class. Mom was about to be divorced for a second time and rather than wallow in sorrow, she threw herself a party at a Greek restaurant I helped her organize. Mom wouldn’t be diagnosed as having bipolar for another 17 years and was likely in a manic phase because of the heightened energy she displayed in front of her guests. But her love and appreciation for her friends were real. Mom’s friend, Robin jokes to this day about when she asked Mom why she brought a big white sheet with her to the party, Mom said it was for all the presents she was going to need to haul. I’d been embarrassed by my mom’s lack of tack at the time, doing my best to laugh it off as another one of Mom’s eccentricities. But with age comes wisdom and patience and I’m now able to see mom’s chutzpah as a character trait and her sense of humor I admire. When I looked at my full-of-life mom who was still so young at heart and had the wonderful audacity to throw herself a big party to celebrate, fifty didn’t seem old. Yet those 24 more years felt a lifetime away.

The year is now 2021 and it’s my turn to cross that imaginary threshold of turning fifty, a number or better-yet a percentage that marks half. To some, it’s an age seen as mid-life with a steep decline on the other side. I choose to believe and will manifest the incline continuing up. Like Oprah, I have always owned my age, proud of where I’ve been and what I’ve accomplished, failures, and all. I’m so looking forward to what comes next, grateful for my life experience thus far.

This was going to be the year I would celebrate in style like Oprah, a birthday blowout party so full of love and celebration all the guests’ cheeks and their abs would hurt from all the smiling and laughing. Knowing my friends, they’d wake up with a slight hangover but it would be totally worth it. Only I can’t gather my dear friends and family in my home or in a restaurant. I can’t travel with a group of my girlfriends and I can’t have a big family dinner because we are in the darkest days of this worldwide pandemic. Add the fact that I live in Los Angeles, where the outbreak numbers are the worst, and a blowout 50th would be reckless, irresponsible, and selfish.

Witnessing my Mom and Oprah continue to be full of life and be prolific, I was given permission to not deny my growth nor my life. I was shown by example to embrace aging by remembering with age comes discernment and sexiness that develops over time because of confidence. There’s the freedom that comes with no longer being confined to traditional roles, like daughter, wife, mother, or some other role in which we’ve been cast. Instead of being laser-focused on our life partners, our children, or our careers, we can focus on ourselves, find time for our passions, and be of service to a broader world.

When 2020, a year like no other it’s a statement unto itself, was coming to an end, I realized I only had one month left in my fourth decade. I would not be able to party in style as I’d always hoped but I could honor and celebrate my life anyway. By reflecting on the big and important life lessons my Mom and Oprah taught me, I was claiming the life I was meant to live. As I began to countdown with one month left of my 40s, it became so evident there is so much to celebrate.

Countdown to Fifty Gratitude Reflection

In Images and Words

My big “a-ha” moment was to take it all in and cherish it. I’ve been blessed to be a mom and a wife to people I would die for. I’m crazy grateful for my relationships with my friends and family, from my teaching, writing, and podcasting, and from the ability to grow old while my mind expands. This self-wisdom is a self-reclamation allowing me to announce and enforce my boundaries, prioritize my pleasure, and become increasingly comfortable in my own skin. Unlike in my youth, when it was all about gaining and acquiring, especially when I had young children and needed to get everything new, the things that make me giddy and happy now are not material but rather are free- like love, sunsets, hugs, deep connections, animals, friendships, hikes, storytelling, and well…the list can go on and on. Let’s not forget what Oprah said. “Every moment is worth celebrating.”

LA Times Article, January 14, 2021

Forty-nine years from now, I’ll be 99, the age the iconic Betty White just turned. Her sense of humor and mischievous spunkiness is wildly endearing and worth celebrating. She reminds me to stay young at heart, not take things too seriously, smile, and laugh, and then all will be golden.

Honor and celebrate all the days of your life. Thank you for celebrating with me.

Host of “Dear Family,” the Podcast, Writer, Educator, and Mental Health Advocate https://writenowrachel.com/

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