This year for her birthday, my mother didn't get a card, a gift or even dinner out. She got Oprah.
Last weekend was the 10th anniversary of O magazine, and to celebrate, Oprah threw a big party in New York called the Live Your Best Life Weekend, with talks by Suze Orman, Donna Brazile, Nate Berkus, Dr. Oz, Martha Beck and other writers from O magazine -- plus Oprah herself, of course.
It's been a tough year for my mom and me. Last August, my stepfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and he died in January. Since then, Mom's been temporarily living with me, continuing to work as a teacher and trying to deal with her grief. My stepfather and my mother were together nearly 40 years, and it's been a huge adjustment for her and for me. Add to that the fact that he did all the driving, and things have been very tough.
Though I consider myself a pretty decent daughter, my mother and I are very different people. We approach the world in very different ways, and since she can be quite controlling, I have to put up hard and fast boundaries. That can be exhausting, and it pushes me to the edge of insanity.
But we do have in common our love for Oprah Winfrey.
Mom's always wanted to go to Oprah's show, but I've never been able to get tickets. When I saw the Live Your Best Life ad, I knew we should go. Oprah's ending her show next year, so this was probably one of the few chances we would get to see her in person.
The weekend kicked off with a reception at Gotham Hall, where we snacked on mini hotdogs and New York-style pretzels, and sipped champagne. Mom's not used to cocktail parties, but she marveled at the pretty decorations and candles and gobbled up the snacks.
Oprah's talk began at 9:30 the next morning, but the doors opened at 8. When we got there at 8:30, the line was already around the front of the Javits convention center, down about three more blocks and snaking toward the river. Everyone was good-natured, though, and the crowd management was excellent. As Mom and I approached the entrance, a guard held us back as several cars pulled up. All of a sudden some woman yelled out, "Oprah!"
I turned around thinking, "Yeah, right! It's Oprah. Nice joke, lady!"
But the joke was on me. There, from the lowered window of a small sedan, was a waving arm clad in yellow, attached to one of the most powerful women in the world.
"Good morning!" She called out.
Oprah! It was her!
People screeched, the car inched, Oprah waved and waved, and I fumbled for my camera. I got off one shot before waving back to her and yelling along with everyone else.
My shot just showed a yellow sleeve and no face, but the nice woman in front of me, Michelle, got a better shot with her iPhone. Thanks again, Michelle.
Then it was time for Oprah's welcome. She was introduced like the rock star she is and talked about inspiration and how everyone was in charge of her own destiny. She also joked about the number of men in attendance and how brave they were. Of the 6,000 attendees, I'd say about a quarter were men. We stormed the mens' rooms all day long! Like many public spaces, Javits must have been designed by a man. How else do you explain so few stalls in the ladies' rooms?
Oprah said a few more words and then introduced Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the books Eat, Pray, Love and Committed. I had never heard her speak before, and she was an amazing storyteller. She spoke about how hard women often are on themselves and how we have to give that up if we're to truly move forward.
Next up was Suze Orman. My mother loves her. Suze burst onto the stage and for the next 40 minutes demanded that women take charge of their money. She insisted we stop devaluing ourselves at work and at home. She insisted we save for the future. She insisted we save for emergencies. And she gave us some nuts and bolts to back it up.
Suze reminded women that just like on an airplane, when you put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on your children, you have to put yourself first when it comes to your finances and your life.
My mother was thrilled.
Next was lunch, where we sat with two very nice women. Dhonyale was from New Orleans, and she told us stories about Katrina and its aftermath. She'd had four feet of water in her living room, and she and her husband lived on a Carnival cruise ship for five months. They considered themselves lucky.
In the afternoon, we saw Donna Brazile (pictured above) and Martha Beck. Brazile was a fiery inspiration, giving us 10 things to do to improve our lives. Beck spoke about the decision to keep her son while she was pregnant, knowing he might be developmentally disabled. At the end of her heartwarming speech, she brought out her now-adult son and hugged him. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.
After dinner, Mom and I were both tired, but Oprah was next, so we summoned our energy and continued on to Radio City.
The first thing Oprah said was, we were probably wondering what we were in for."An Evening with Oprah? What was that?" She can't sing, she can't dance...but she can talk!
And that's exactly what she did for the next hour and a half. She talked. Some of the stories we'd heard before, like how when she was first starting out on television, she ended up bald after going to a New York hair salon that said they did black hair.
Other stories we hadn't heard, like the reason she's on all the O magazine covers. When the magazine started, everyone speculated it was because her ego was so big, she felt she had to be on every cover. The real reason? She didn't want to have to deal with cover-hungry celebrities and their reps. It was just easier to do it herself.
The evening felt part revival, part motivational, part insightful -- but always inspirational. It was touching, it was funny and it was all Oprah.
And everything she said had the same theme she introduced that morning: We all have the power to change our lives if we have the courage and the determination to do so.
At the end of the evening, Hugh Jackman came out on stage, wheeling a 10th anniversary cake. Oprah seemed surprised to see him. Then because it was Radio City, out came the Rockettes holding O magazine placards in a kick line.
On the way home, I couldn't quite read my mom. She's always very outspoken when she doesn't like something, but not necessarily so when she does like something. Did she have a good time? Didn't she? She was quiet, and I wasn't sure if it was exhaustion or just because she was overwhelmed.
Eventually she said two things. First, "Thank you for such a nice weekend." Second, "Maybe I'll take some driving lessons, so I can be a little more independent."
Oprah's magic at work.
You can see more of my pictures from the LYBL weekend in my Megan's Minute photo album.
Margot at UnBlog-evable also went with her mom.
Judi of A Baby Boomer Woman's Life After 50 took her daughter.
Megan Smith is the BlogHer Contributing Editor covering Television/Online Video.. Her other blogs are Megan's Minute, quirky commentary around the clock and Meg's Rad Review.
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