The first day of grooming school is exactly like the first day of kindergarten–except the scissors are really sharp
It’s been a while since I was a student–eight years, actually. Unless you count the playwrighting class that I took through the university where I used to work. Then it’s been five. Which for some reason sounds like a lot less than eight, so I’m gonna go with my original declaration.
So it’s been eight years since I was a student, and like any schoolgirl, I was nervous about my first day of class at the Massachusetts Academy of Canine Cosmetology. Lucky for me, my father, who happens to be visiting for two weeks, distracted me from my anxiety when he bolted into the living room this morning. “I need help!” he said, frantically waving his hands under his armpits. “Clearly,” I replied, sipping my tea. “What’s up?” “Um, you know that spray can you have on the back of the toilet?” “The air freshener? Yeah.” He blushed a deep crimson. “Well, I thought it was deodorant, so I sprayed it under my arms, and now they’re really burning!”
Yes sir, there is never a dull moment when dear old Dad’s around.
Snorting, I rummaged through the medicine cabinet until I found a bottle of Vagisil powder. Hey, it’s supposed to relieve itching and burning symptoms, right? By the time Dad finished, our bathroom looked like someone had attacked it with anthrax. I bet Jenn was seriously confused when she woke up.
Dad and I planned to head to Ogunquit, Maine–one of my favorite seaside towns–after class, so he rode with me to Newburyport and I dropped him off at the library. I arrived at the school 20 minutes early, nervously gulped down the rest of my latte, and headed inside. According to the class syllabus, we needed to bring all of our tools and textbooks to the first day of class. Most of my equipment, including a large silver tote that brought to mind the Barbie carrying case I owned when I was a kid, arrived from Groomer’s Choice yesterday. Elementary school teachers tend to send home lists of of stuff their students need for the classroom. Grooming school isn’t all that different, except instead of crayons and glue, we use clippers and styptic powder. Oh, and the scissors are way sharper than those plastic safety shears that barely cut through paper.
I sorted through all of my equipment last night. Kristi, my boss from the grooming shop in Ohio, swears up and down that it’s only the bare minimum of what I’ll be need, but at nearly $700, it seems like a hell of a lot. I now own one Wahl Arco cordless clipper, an Andis AG Super 2-speed clipper, multiple brushes, combs, and blades, a set of metal snap-on combs (whatever they are), two hand-stripping knives, two sets of nail clippers, ear powder and wash, two pairs of scissors, one pair of thinning shears, and a grooming jacket that, while not altogether flattering, does a semi-decent job of hiding my gut. Black is slimming, after all.
For books, I have Notes from the Grooming Table by Melissa Verplank, which Kristi assures me is the groomer’s equivalent to the Bible, Poodle Clipping and Grooming: The International Reference by Shirlee Kalston, The New Encyclopedia of the Dog by Bruce Fogle, and Holistic Guide for a Healthy Dog by Wendy Volhard and Kerry Brown.
I spread out everything on the floor and stared at it, overwhelmed. “Wow, look at all this!” Jenn exclaimed, kneeling next to me. “What does this do?” she asked, holding up a hand-stripping knife. “I have no idea,” I replied. She picked up my invoice. “What’s the difference between a finishing blade and a skiptooth blade?” “Dunno.” “Aren’t you excited?” she asked, shaking my shoulders. “Look at all the shiny new stuff!” I gave her a weak smile. “Mostly I just feel dumb.” She rolled her eyes. “Well, obviously. Because you should know exactly how to use this stuff already. In fact, I don’t even know why you’re bothering to go to grooming school, because you should just automatically know how to do it. Because you’re supposed to be perfect at everything–even things you’ve never done.” Touché, Jenn.
I entered the school with the previous evening’s conversation echoing in my head. My obsession with perfection—with the exception of anything that involves math, because I gave up on that way back in the first grade—has plagued me for as long as I can remember, and it’s gotten worse in the past several years. I also know that this hang-up will most certainly hinder my ability to learn. It’s been a long time since I’ve mastered a new skill, and I need to be patient with myself.
My instructors are Susan, Jaque, and Teresa. Combined, they have 30 years of grooming experience, and I know I will learn a lot from them if I just relax and allow myself the luxury of making mistakes without also feeling the need to self-punish. My classmates are Kim and Claudia.
Susan spent the morning showing us around the shop and reviewing the syllabus. Tuesdays and Thursdays are hands-on–we’ll work alongside professional groomers with dogs who have been specially selected for groomers-in-training (in other words, it’s unlikely they’ll try to bite us). Fridays are lecture days; we’ll cover everything from breed identification, nutrition, and external canine anatomy to salon maintenance and practical shop administration.
After school, I picked up Dad and we headed to Maine. I chattered about school for the entire drive. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited and hopeful. We’ll see what Thursday brings.