The ticking of Judy Hsu’s clock is relentless.
As the high-profile anchor for the highly rated ABC 7 news morning show, mom of three under age 8 and wife, she’s often asked how she manages it all.
"I try not to think about it," Hsu, 38, says with a soft laugh. "I just do what has to be done."
Even her husband, mother, mother-in-law and girlfriends are always asking her why she doesn’t get more help, she admits.
The secrets to her juggling act: determination to make the most of her time, an old-fashioned paper calendar (electronic versions won’t do) and to-do lists for both work and home that would make even the busiest of us exhausted.
Here’s a quick glimpse of her typical day: She’s up by 3 a.m., out the door by 3:30, arrives at the State Street television studio by 4 and is in the makeup chair by 4:15. She’s on air at 4:57 a.m. with the day’s freshest news for the next two hours. A few days a week she works on her For Your Family segment; on the others she’s a general assignment reporter for the 11 a.m. news. She returns home between 12:30 and 1 p.m., making sure she’s able to spend time with Caitlin, 1, before the baby’s nap and before 5-year-old Samantha gets up from her nap and is ready to play. Some days they also fit in ballet class before picking up 7-year-old Luke from school at 3. Then it’s off to Chinese class or piano class before sitting down together for dinner and baths. The kids are in bed between 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Before her own head hits the pillow, Hsu handles the night wrap-up, making sure everyone is all set for the next day. On a good day, she’s in bed by 8. On a bad day, she says, by 9. Then it starts all over again.
"I’m constantly tired," she says, with another laugh. "That’s the give in this schedule. But the great thing is I have the whole afternoon with the kids, which most working parents don’t get, so I’m grateful for that."
At home in Chicago
Born in Taiwan and raised in Chicago, Hsu knew she wanted to work in Chicago. But after working in San Diego for nearly seven years, she reconciled herself to staying in California. Then out of the blue, the job here opened in 2001—and she found out she was pregnant with Luke. The schedule just made sense at the time, though even now she smiles as she thinks how it’s gotten tougher as each year passes.
Her husband, Tracy, the man she describes as her best friend, became a stay-at-home dad. Without him, she says, she wouldn’t be able to have it all—family and career.
Hsu says she’s living a dream come true with her job.
"I guess I discovered my future from the time I was an 11-year-old immigrant child who first lived in Chicago’s Chinatown, not knowing a word of English," she recalls. "I remember watching quite a bit of television, trying to absorb the language. And while watching the evening news, I dreamed about one day being able to do the same—telling wonderful stories on the news using this brand new language I was determined to learn."
She says she’s been given so many opportunities to meet people, learn new things and go new places.
"What I love about my job is being able to tell the stories of the people we meet, from the famous to the ordinary," she says.
One of her favorite stories involved a boy with leukemia. "When I asked him what he wanted the most in life, he said ‘to just be happy.’ My story helped him raise the money he needed to fly to Texas for alternative treatment, but he passed away before his family could get there. I’ll always remember him and remember that we can all learn something from the people we meet," she says.
Putting family first
From the giant screen in front of the studio to the sides of buses to the thousands of eyes who watch her every morning, Hsu lives a very public life, yet she guards her kids’ private life.
Her longtime friend, Nina Yoo, says Hsu, always disciplined, always focused, knew what she wanted to be and achieved it.
But it’s what happens off screen that inspires Yoo, who has seen Hsu in her private moments with her kids, playing and dancing and laughing.
"What a great role model she is for her kids. ... She gives of herself completely to both her job and to her family," she says.
"It’s never about her and what’s good for her. Her family is just always her number one priority. That’s very refreshing."
One thing that would surprise people about her: She didn’t learn English until 11 when she emigrated from Taiwan. She’s a huge fan of Language Stars, a program that teaches children a second language (www.languagestars.com).
What would her kids say about her: Hsu says: "Mommy plays by the book, Mommy tells them to drink water all the time, Mommy is tired." She adds that they’d probably say she’s very fair because she’s always talking about being fair, balancing privileges and responsibilities.
The best piece of parenting advice she received: "One day after I interviewed a preschool teacher about how to manage the busy schedules of today’s family and still raise good responsible children, she told me the most important thing children need is for the parents to love their child unconditionally and to set boundaries. I really took that to heart. I think so many of us struggle with the kids’ school, soccer, baseball, ballet, piano and our work and career ... that we sometimes forget what the kids really need is something so simple ... for us to love them unconditionally and to help set boundaries. I try to remind myself of that all the time, especially when I feel the mommy-guilt of not being able to be there for everything and not being able to have our kids participate in some things because of our early schedule."
Tamara L. O’Shaughnessy is editor of Chicago Parent and mom to Marty, Arlee and Zoe.