Call me a Scrooge or whatever Christmas sourpuss you can think of, but I simply can’t stand the song, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” Twittered by Munchkin-voiced Gayla Peevey, the hippo song gives me a twitch every time I hear it. In fact, the first time I heard it just a few years ago, I thought it was a new novelty song, presented by some Pee-wee Herman kind of character. I was shocked when I found out the record was released the Christmas before I was born (1953) and that it was actually a little girl singing it. I don’t know how I managed to grow up never hearing this record.
I’m obviously in the minority regarding my opinion of “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” if my immediate family is any indication. Not only do Diamondqueen and the Hooligan kiddies adore this song, but my mother is fond of it, too. The difference is my mother doesn’t torture me with Gayla Peevey and the hippo. Diamondqueen and the Hooligans do it from November 1 on.
Diamondqueen makes sure the hippo song is included at least once on every holiday CD she mixes. These CDs accompany us on our sojourns throughout the holiday season, so I hear “Hippopotamus” a lot. To make matters worse, the kids request the song specifically or ask their mother to play it again once the bouncy little number is done — they know I’ll scream in agony, which is the whole point.
I’ve intended to buy the kids and/or Diamondqueen some kind of hippo for Christmas for several years now. Either I forget about it, or when I’m out shopping I can’t find a hippo (stuffed or otherwise) to save my life. I haven’t ruled out my subconscious deliberately blocking any thoughts of hippos in order to save my sanity.
Last Friday I had the afternoon off, so I joined Mom, Diamondqueen, and S.Hooligan for a girls’ lunch at Macaroni Grill. Afterward, we went across the street to the big Kenwood Town Center mall to look around. There’s a Build-a-Bear store there, and Diamondqueen insisted we go in.
Right away I noticed they offered a hippopotamus to stuff and dress. Foregoing the element of surprise, I told Diamondqueen how I’d always meant to get a Christmas hippo for the kids; even though I already have gifts for the Hooligans, their mother approved of my plan to acquires hippos as well (partly because she wanted to participate in the whole building process herself).
S.Hooligan can’t keep a secret, so telling her not to let J.Hooligan in on this surprise gift was a futile exercise. S.Hooligan, though, fibs and makes up sensational stories on a regular basis. We decided if S. spilled the hippo beans to J.Hooligan, we’d all act like she was making stuff up again.
We picked out two of the velvety hippo skins and carried them to the attendant at the stuffing machine. It turns out there’s a whole ritual to this Build-a-Bear stuff: First S. and I each had to pick out a padded satin heart from a bin attached to the stuffing machine. Then we had to press the hearts to various parts of our bodies to imbue them with certain powers and virtues (the forehead had something to do with good thoughts, I believe). Then we had to kiss the hearts and put them into our respective hippo skins. S.Hooligan seemed taken aback by all this, unsure what was going on and getting that certain scowl on her face.
The attendant placed my hippo skin over a wide tube opening into the stuffing machine. As instructed, I stepped on a pedal, and the machine whirred to life, a blizzard of white fluff whirling within and shooting through the tube and into my hippo, which plumped up beautifully. The attendant did something with a lacing that closed and sealed the hippo, and voila! A Christmas hippo was born. (I have to admit he/she was incredibly soft and huggable — the hippo, I mean, not the attendant — and I’m not into stuffed animals, and wasn’t as a child.)
S.Hooligan was uncertain about stepping on that pedal, and she had trouble keeping enough pressure on it, so Diamondqueen and I lent sole weight to bring S.’s hippo into cuddly being. There were other activities we could participate in (there was a party of kids in the back being led through some kind of chant about their new creatures), but we went straight to the computer to fill in the information for the “birth certificate.”
Diamondqueen, after looking around, asked if we could buy each hippo an outfit if she paid for it. That was fine by me. S.Hooligan picked out her hippo’s outfit, a stretch knit dress covered with 70s-style flowers in pink, not unlike a dress S. herself wore last summer. Since J.Hooligan is in Cub Scouts, we decided to buy a blue Scout shirt for his hippo.
Each hippo was packed into a house-like box with windows dye-cut into the sides. S.Hooligan insisted on lugging her box all through the mall. I don’t know how she did it. I got tired enough just carrying J.Hooligan’s box.
“Remember, it’s a secret!” I reminded S.Hooligan as we parted. Mom said Diamondqueen also drilled S. in the car about not telling J.Hooligan about the hippo. S. assured her mother she understood.
However, that evening, when we all got together for a ride in the van to view Christmas lights, S.Hooligan said loudly (with J. sitting right next to her), “Nancy, did you take the hippos to Grandma’s?” I pretended I didn’t understand what she was talking about, simultaneously rolling my eyes at Josh.
Later she brought the hippos up again.
“What’s she talking about?” J.Hooligan asked.
“Oh, she’s probably just making stuff up again,” I replied. I thought S. looked a little hurt and subdued, but she shut up about the hippos.
Not that she learned her lesson. All week, S.Hooligan has openly discussed the hippos in front of J.Hooligan. On Monday, she arrived at her grandma’s house asking about the hippos, and Mom showed her the two big boxes I’d wrapped and put far back behind the tree over the weekend. On Monday evening, when I brought J. home after taking him to his swimming lesson, S.Hooligan raced up to me and proclaimed something about wrapping the hippos.
Later, I told S. I had to tell her something important and took her alone to the living room. “You’re not supposed to talk about the hippos in front of J. The hippos are secret!” I whispered.
“Oh, I was just kidding!” S. responded gleefully. She assured me she knew the hippos were supposed to be kept secret from J. She knows, but she’s finding it impossible to keep mum.
Cross your fingers that we can maintain this compromised level of “secrecy” a few more nights. The hippos will be revealed in all their glory on Christmas Eve when the Hooligans come to Grandma’s for their gifts.
J.Hooligan is nobody’s fool, though. I wonder if he suspects anything yet?