"Why, oh, why doesn't God show me what my talent is?" Maggie said with the back of her hand on her forehead.
My wife, Amy, and I look at each other and say, "Maybe acting?"
Maggie desperately wants to be on that stage next year doing something, anything. Amy and I keep telling her to be patient, that sometimes it takes awhile to discover your true talent, but she wants talent thrust upon her from Mount Olympus immediately.
She wants talent now; she's waited long enough. She's 7 years old.
We haven't pursued acting for Maggie yet because, whenever she gets a speaking part in a school program, she stares blankly at the audience with spiraling vortex eyes and mumbles so quietly that Horton the elephant couldn't hear her.
Maybe someday acting will be her talent — but right now, she can't handle the pressure of being a talking reindeer in a first-grade play.
It's not that Amy and I haven't been trying to cultivate a talent for Maggie, she just hasn't clicked with anything yet.
We took Maggie to dance lessons for a season, but that turned into a twirling and spinning social event. We enrolled her in gymnastics and that turned into a tumbling and flipping social event. We signed her up for basketball, and that turned into a prancing and dribbling social event.
We suggested to Maggie that maybe being a friend is her talent. After all, she makes friends easily and enjoys other kids. But she said: "What am I supposed to do, bring a kid on stage and say, 'Hi, my name's Maggie, what's yours?'"
She has a point.
It's difficult for Maggie because her older sister, Evien, has known what her talent is since the first time she strung two words together. Evien wants to be a travel writer so she can see the world and use her talent before she settles down and gets married and lives on a farm. She's 9.
I have to admit, Evien's got quite a flare for writing and she receives many accolades from her teachers, but she's not really interested in sharing her talent on stage.
Maggie's mom is a teacher and knew she wanted to be a teacher since she was old enough to hold a piece of chalk. My talent is cutting meat and running a meat department at a grocery store.
"See, Maggie," I said. "It took me a long time to develop my talent. I didn't grow up wanting to cut meat — I learned it when I was an adult."
Still, Maggie is inconsolable. She wants a talent so she can join the other kids in her school on stage.
Maggie's a hard worker and a great helper around the house. If her mom is cooking, Maggie wants to stir batter. If I'm doing laundry, she wants to fold. She likes to set the table and she'll pull the trash can back to the house after garbage day.
Since my wife has been teaching, I've gone to a lot of elementary school talent shows. There are always a lot of acts that involve singing. Some of the singing is screechy and off-key, but those kids will grow into their voices. There are always plenty of dance routines, piano recitals, jump rope displays, Hula Hoop demonstrations interspersed with masters of the yo-yo, Pogo stick and unicycle.
Certainly those kids have worked hard to develop a skill they can share at the talent show, but what about those kids like Maggie who don't know what their talent is yet?
Some year, I'd like to go to the school talent show and see a kid walk out with a tall chef's hat on and carrying flour, sugar and a bowl. I'd like to see that kid mix up a batch of cookies and serve them at intermission. Now that would be a talent that everyone would enjoy!
I'd like to see a kid walk out with a table saw and cut teddy bears out of balsa wood. I think it would be pretty cool to see a kid walk on stage with a stack of dishes and a hand full of silverware, and set a table and take out the trash.
Better yet, I'd like to see a kid plop a whole chicken on a table, cut the wings from the breast, separate the drumsticks from the thighs, discard the backbone, dip the parts into batter and deep fry them. Now that would be something to see. That would be talent. It's too bad you can't bring a knife to school.
I think there are a lot of talented kids out there who don't get much credit for their talents. It seems like only the performers and athletes get credit for their talents, but there are kids out there who could disassemble a clock and put it back together, and nobody knows about it. There are kids who can climb trees, grow vegetables, mow a lawn, take care of a pet, paint a shed — and nobody knows about it.
Next year, I'd like to see Maggie walk across the stage of the talent show with a laundry basket under her arm, sit down and show everybody how she can fold a load of laundry.
— By Grant Berry, Tribune community columnist