I wrote When I Grow Up because, as any tiger mom can tell you, the first moment you hold your child, you expect them to become the president of the United States. But as time passed and I started to get to know my son—while also learning what it means to be a mother—things started changing.
I started to see what his interests were and what he is good at. I also saw him reject some of the things I wanted him to excel at as a “perfect” child. For example, soccer and basketball . . . NG: That means not good! Often there was either a meltdown or major bribery (OK, you can get a coveted Pokémon card) to get him to behave. Terrible! I learned the hard way how bad of a mistake it is to bribe your child. They will argue about doing things they should be doing unless they get a reward.
I also started to see that I’m not as much of a tiger mom as I thought I would be. I thought I could teach/force my son to be a piano-playing, math-loving, trilingual basketball superstar who loves to read and volunteers at the soup kitchen where he finds the cure for cancer during his breaks.
I saw his likes and dislikes shift and change at a rapid pace. One day he’d say he wanted to be a gardener when he grew up (because he was off looking at the flowers during soccer games instead of keeping an eye on the ball). The next day he’d say he wanted to be the next King of Pop after discovering the music of Michael Jackson. Then a baker, because like Oprah, HE LOVES BREAD! Then a Legoland tour guide so he could go on the rides for free.
When I first thought about writing When I Grow Up, my son was only 7. I thought, What can I do, as I watch him grow, to make sure he finds happiness in his life and career? How did my mom help me?
When I was growing up in Queens, New York, I remember when my family and I saw an Asian-American female face sitting at the local news anchor desk for the first time. This was SHOCKING! In those days, the only Asian faces we saw on TV were the men in cheesy, English-dubbed kung fu movies. The men wore long beards, had long hair piled on top of their heads in the now popular “man bun” and fought with long sticks. My father screamed at the top of his lungs as if he’d won the Powerball jackpot: “Ghang qwai lie, ghang qwai lie! Doong Fahng rhen zhai dian shir saang!” Translation? “Hurry up! Hurry up! There’s an ASIAN person on TV!”
My mom and I came running. There she was, Kaity Tong, co-anchoring the 5 p.m. newscast next to Tom Snyder on WABC. I was 13 years old. The year was 1983. (Ms. Tong, by the way, is still an anchor today in NYC. You go, girl!)
My mother turned to me and asked, “If she [Kaity Tong] can do it, why can’t you?” She went on to say something to the effect of, You are inquisitive like a good reporter, you love talking to people, you like to wear pretty clothes, and you love makeup! (Hah! How shallow I was!)
But my mom planted the seed that day, and it grew from there. I never strayed from that idea, and it became my dream. My dream started to come true six years later, and in 1989, I had my first newsroom experience. I was an unpaid intern at CBS News. Ten years after that, I became the news anchor on the very same show where I was an intern.
But it was during that internship when I realized if you do what you love, getting any size paycheck feels like a bonus. As I mentioned earlier, I worked for FREE as an intern, and I loved every minute of it. The experience was priceless.
When I Grow Up is not only written to entertain young, budding minds, but also to help other moms do what my mom did for me. The first step is to help your child find their natural talent. The second step is to see what makes them happy. The third step is helping your child figure out how to combine steps one and two into a successful life. If you can do that, then you’re halfway there to guaranteed happiness for your kid!
The other half is finding love. I am lucky I found it and have it, but I haven’t figured out how to teach my son how to find it. But if I do, you can bet I’ll write another book.
A little boy shares with his mom his dreams of what he might be when he grows up in When I Grow Up, a tender picture book from the host of “The Talk” and “Big Brother,” Julie Chen, and New York Times bestselling artist and Caldecott Honor recipient Diane Goode. Chen is a mother, a television personality and a producer who lives with her family in California.