- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 1, 2005

The number on the slip of paper in my hand says “93.” The deli man calls out “81.” Clearly, I’m here for the duration.

This is my last stop before I join the 40-minute wait at the checkout. My overflowing grocery cart eliminates the possibility I can breeze through the express lane. A glance at my watch puts my total time in the supermarket at 1:42:27, and at the rate the man behind the deli counter is moving, I’m not going to set any records getting out of here.

I decide to be patient. I’m not really in a hurry to do anything except get out of the grocery store, and even when I do, I’m facing another 90 minutes in my kitchen, throwing out the food that is now a science project and replacing it with fresh provisions.

Deli man calls “92,” so I move in and get ready to place my order.

At last, my number is up. “I need a pound of the shaved turkey,” I start, “but can I ask you to please slice some from the package rather than give me what’s left in the tray?” I point to the blobs of crumbled turkey breast in the deli case.

Deli man looks down at the poultry and hesitates. “It’s probably not going to make a difference,” he says. “This turkey is falling apart no matter how you slice it.”

“That’s OK,” I say. “Just slice a pound of it, and we’ll see how it looks.” I’m trying to be pleasant, but I suspect he’s just trying to get out of doing a little extra work.

Deli man meticulously unwraps the turkey breast, and I can see this is going to take a few minutes. I head over to the cheese case and add a few items to my already-burgeoning cart.

When I return, my pound of turkey is neatly sliced and packaged, waiting for me on top of the deli case. “Is this mine?” I ask to confirm.

“Yes, ma’am,” says the deli man. Then he adds something that catches me off guard. In a serious voice, he says, “I did my best.”

I thank deli man and join a long line in lane 10 to check out. By now, the fluorescent lights of the superstore have diminished my ability to ascertain colors — not to mention that my energy always saps when I sense the grocery bill will reach the “we have nothing in the house and even had to buy toilet paper and Tylenol” range.

So rather than pick up a magazine to pass the time, I stand there thinking about what deli man just said to me: “I did my best.”

That’s quite a statement. All I asked for was a pound of turkey that wasn’t crumbling, and what I got was this gentleman’s earnest effort to fulfill my request — but more, to please me.

It’s the most he could do.

These days, it often doesn’t look as if I’m doing my best.

Just ask the office manager at the orthodontist’s office — the woman charged with calling me on any number of mornings to ask, “Did you forget your daughter’s appointment?” That I am here and not there with my daughter as scheduled would seem to answer the question for us.

It’s also not convincing that I’m doing my best when I’m late for every commitment from teacher conferences to hair appointments to deadlines for free-lance work.

My breathless arrivals are getting to be standard operating procedure. Once I get to my destination, I spend the first several minutes wondering how all the other women managed to arrive on time, looking so put together, without risking life, limb or a speeding ticket.

Yet, having already dropped a child or two at practice or the library or a friend’s house; dashed into the pharmacy drive-through; and quickly picked up the dry cleaning, my late arrivals often are the best I can do.

I’m mulling this over as I load the conveyor belt with goodies for school lunches. Tomorrow, it’s back to the grind of school and work, resuming the hectic haze we call “normal.”

But it’s a new year. A chance to claim a fresh start despite the fact we’re midway through the academic calendar. It’s time to resolve to do better — to do our best.

Thanks to the deli man, that’s just what I’m going to do. From a simple task like slicing cold cuts, to punctuality to patience, I’m going to claim “Do my best” as my motto for 2005.

Of course, that means I’m going to have to stop pretending to do my best when checking my e-mail one last time would make me late for the dentist or neglecting to check my calendar on a Sunday night would leave some unsuspecting office manager calling me Monday morning with the inevitable question as to my whereabouts.

Doing my best means I’ll actually be organized instead of just appearing to be. It means I’ll reduce the stress that burns my fuse too quickly, causing me to bark orders at my children when I should be leading them patiently.

Doing my best means making time for my husband and our family instead of accepting what the calendar leaves for leftovers.

Suddenly, this seems overwhelming. If I resolve to do my best in everything, I’m sure to fail.

But the truth is, sometimes even failing is the best we can do.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 17 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybethhicks. com) or send e-mail to marybeth.hicks@comcast.net.

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