By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Tis the season for teenagers and summer jobs. Two of my three offspring are pounding the digital pavement this week as they apply online for various jobs around town. Their dad and I have always believed that school is incredibly important, but we also realize that some of the best parts of our own education happened in places where we had a boss and a paycheck.
Our daughter (who is the youngest of the three kids) is already hard at work. She scored herself a dog-washing job with a mobile pet groomer, and today was her first day at work.
She was nervous and excited as we pulled up to the dog-washing unit on wheels. She’d already worked with her new boss two times when she helped wash our family’s dogs. But this time it was official. She didn’t want to mess up. She wanted to learn quickly and be helpful. She wanted the clients’ dogs to like her. I told her I could relate, since my first job was as a dog-washer, too.
I’ll never forget my own first day at work. The groomer led me out back to a fenced area and pointed to the largest dog I’d ever seen – a Saint Bernard named Eddie. “Give him a bath,” she said. “You’ll probably have to use that thing since the indoor sink isn’t big enough.” She motioned toward a horse trough and a water hose.
Shy by nature, I didn’t let my shock show. I nodded knowingly, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to bathe a Saint Bernard in a horse trough. As she disappeared inside to resume giving poodle cuts, I grabbed the bottle of dog shampoo, filled the horse trough with water and led Eddie over to the makeshift tub.
It’s not that Eddie minded the idea of getting wet. The problem was that Eddie had about the same energy level as a large brick. When I tried to coax him into jumping into the horse trough, he looked at me and slowly sat down as if to say, “No, thanks. It’s time for my nap.”
So I sweet-talked him, picked up his front paws and guided half his body over the edge of the trough into the water, thinking his back half would naturally follow. It didn’t. So I picked up the dog’s back-end and hoisted it up over the edge, which gave Eddie just enough time to flop his front legs back out onto the lawn.
This pattern continued for a while. I’d get half of Eddie into the trough, trying desperately to get his other half in before he had a chance to climb back out. I’ve often wondered if my new boss watched this comedy show from the window of the salon. Maybe it was a new employee hazing ritual – washing Eddie the gentle giant in a horse trough.
But I persevered and, after several attempts, got all of Eddie’s 150 pounds into the water. After a thorough scrubbing and rinsing, I took him inside and dried his thick, golden hair – which felt like it took roughly two years, give or take a day.
I bet Kate’s first day as a dog washer will probably be better. When I dropped her off this morning, I noticed that her first few shaggy clients were no bigger than a toaster oven, and they seemed as nervous as she did.
At some point, of course, her new boss will teach her how to clean a dog’s anal glands. And yes, that is literally the crappy part of the job. I won’t go into the specifics of the “how” and “why,” since many of you may be eating breakfast.
But even that aspect is essential to a summer job education. No matter how old you are or what kind of job you have, there are great parts – like the tail wags and the puppy cuddles. And then there are not-so-great parts – like the crazy eyes and the sharp-toothed bites. The latter makes the former that much better. There’s nothing like a bad customer to make you appreciate the good ones.
So, here’s to all the teenagers, mine included, working their new summer jobs. May the paychecks be adequate and the life lessons be even more valuable.