That inevitable question first hit me like a water balloon in the face while taking a nap in the summer sun. It's a major question that weighs heavier on our minds as we mature.
"So, Michelle, what do you want to be when you grow up?" my kindergarten teacher asked genially, but for me, her smile was a farce. Why does she want to know? What's it to her? Suddenly, I saw my life flash before my eyes. I was an astronaut, a teacher, a race-car driver, a tattoo artist, a janitor. What would I be? I felt as though my days of playing in the sandbox and eating glue were over - I had to plan my future.
But there, face to face with my teacher, I declared, "A giraffe!"
My teacher stared at me for a long time; I still wonder what was going through her head. Maybe she thought I was on special medication or my parents were free-spirited hippies who taught me I could be whoever (or whatever) I wanted. Then she just smiled and turned back to the class.
"Children, next Friday is 'Bring Your Kids to Work Day.' All of you will join one of your parents at his or her job and learn about what they do for a living. And on Monday, you'll share that by drawing a picture about your day! Won't that be exciting?" She clasped her hands and grinned at the rugrats sitting below her. Just then her eyes focused on a small jelly-covered hand that shot up into the air.
"Can I go to the potty?"
Apparently my class was not as excited as my teacher had hoped. A small light bulb flashed above my head, however, as an idea came to mind. I'll go to work with Daddy! I decided. That way I can grow up and still watch cartoons, just like him!
My father is an animator for Disney Studios. I never really knew what an animator did, only that he came home with movies like "Aladdin," "Cinderella" and "Beauty and the Beast." We would all gather on the couch and watch, but little did I know that he helped create them! My father and I even fought over which cartoon to watch, with me never realizing the characters were not real people who lived inside the TV. Hundreds of thousands of animators like my dad all over the world put them there. After a while, it made sense to see his name on the TV screen at the end of each episode and going to his office, I knew, would be really exciting.
Going to work with my dad was not exactly what I thought it would be. I had to be pulled out of bed when it was still dark, and then we faced hours of traffic on the freeway. I had always imagined Dad going to work with a briefcase and a tie, perhaps toting a mug of coffee and newspaper, but he took me to work wearing a T-shirt and jeans.
The office, like his attire, was very relaxed and carefree. The cartoonists hung around laughing, listening to music, watching new movies and, of course, drawing. Ah, heavens! Briefcases were nowhere to be seen. The refrigerators were stocked with sodas and Yoo-hoos, and popcorn and candy machines were in every corner. My favorite "office supply," though, was the row of vintage arcade games. Pacman, X-Men, Street Fighter and Centipede - they were all there! And the good times rolled.
After a few hours of drawing cartoons with my dad (for the "Aladdin" TV series), we headed to the lunchroom where we saw actors from "Boy Meets World," "Family Matters" and "Full House." I was ecstatic. The life of an artist seemed the perfect job for me. Giraffes never meet celebrities.
On Monday, I proudly explained to my class my day at Dad's workplace, making some details taller than they actually were. In the middle of my presentation, my dad appeared and listened to the rest of my little speech. I introduced him and invited him to draw something on the board. Within minutes, my classmates were yelling and laughing as they asked him to draw cartoon characters. In an effort to calm everyone, my dad taught us how to draw Mickey and Donald, and then later demonstrated the technique animators use to make drawings move.
It was one of the best afternoons of my life! By kindergarten, I already had my life figured out: I wanted to be an artist. Since then, I've been drawing every day, only stopping to do homework and sleep - most of the time, anyway. I no longer want to be a giraffe (although it would be cool to eat leaves from treetops). As an artist, I can express my views and surroundings on paper with a pencil or brush as I feel and see them: beautiful.
While surveying my laughing class and my dad drawing the cartoon mouse and duck as if they had been born from his marker, I realized I would have a very colorful future.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.