This is Mama Hippo.  She is a bit bedraggled these days, having seen the inside of the washer and dryer more than once in her life.  In C’s mind, Mama Hippo was a gift from his beloved Julia (although I can’t quite remember whether Rebecca had just suggested her purchase or had actually purchased her for us).  Mama Hippo was ignored for the first few months of her life at Chez J-E.  But somewhere around 10 months or so, C discovered her soft, squishy head.  By two, Mama Hippo was a constant travel companion.  By three, I had managed to convince C that Mama Hippo couldn’t travel out of the house anymore, except if we were sleeping overnight somewhere.  I was terrified that she would get left someplace, as she was our key to a good night’s sleep.

When Mike and I traveled to Alaska earlier this year, Mama Hippo made the journey to Nana’s, of course.  About half-way through the week, the kids went to spend a few nights with my dad and Mama Hippo got left behind with Nana by mistake.  When I spoke with my dad, the first words out of his mouth were “C is rather attached to Mama Hippo, isn’t he?”  Without Mama Hippo, C had apparently sobbed for several hours before falling asleep mid-heave from utter exhaustion.

On Wednesday C had his first show and tell day at school.  When I asked what he was planning on bringing in to class, he looked at me as if I was crazy and said “Why Mama Hippo of course, she is my favorite thing and we are supposed to bring in our favorite thing.”  I panicked.  The thought of Mama Hippo roaming the halls of an elementary school, perhaps even seeing the playground, was a horror I had no interest in contemplating.  But C was insistent.  She was carefully tucked into his backpack, and off they went to school.

Standing around with the other parents, I got the rundown on what everyone else had brought in.  A Nintendo DS, a signed baseball, an action hero.  I panicked again.  What if one of the kids made fun of Mama Hippo?  What if C got wind of the fact that his love for Mama Hippo wasn’t socially acceptable anymore?  I spent the day in a state of barely controlled anxiety.

At pickup, as I saw C tumbling down the hill with the other kids, I raced over and asked “Do you have Mama Hippo?”  He responded with “Yes,  Mrs. D made me put her right back in my backpack after show and tell because she was so special.  Mrs. D wanted to make sure she was safe.”  I fell a little bit in love with Mrs. D right then and there.

Then I asked carefully, “How did show and tell go?”  C tilted his head and said “Pretty well!  I told all about how Mama Hippo was a baby gift from my best friend Julia, and how I slept with her every night and snuggled her when I got sad.  I even told them about how when you made her take a bath in the washing machine last week, I stood by the washer and dryer to make sure she wasn’t scared.”  I internally cringed, visions of all the potential comments from 1st graders not yet capable of using a social filter dancing through my head.

“Did people get to ask questions afterwards?”  C shrugged.  “Mrs. D told me that it was clear how special Mama Hippo was, and how lucky I was to have her.  Then she said we were out of time and we had to move on to math.”  I fell head in heels in love with Mrs. D.  Because while 1st graders may have limited ability to filter their thoughts, they also have limited abilities to retain those thoughts when faced with the prospect of math worksheets.

C skipped home chattering about how much fun Mama Hippo had at school, but how she was tired from her long day and had to go straight to bed, as she was used to napping most of the day.  I walked home grateful that my son’s innocence had been kept intact just a little bit longer.  I know that someday Mama Hippo will become “uncool” and be relegated to the back of the closet, only to be pulled out stealthily in the middle of the night.  But for now, she still holds her place of honor on C’s pillow, guarding his bed while he is gone and keeping him safe while he sleeps.




  1. That’s a lovely story. I think I’m in love with C’s teacher too. I’ve been lucky that the Princess shares her love among a wide variety of ‘her guys’ so I don’t have that panic of losing ‘her’ mama hippo.

  2. I love it when teachers get it right! He is lucky to have her in his life.

  3. Mrs. D definitely sounds like a treasure! Glad that Mama Hippo had a great day at school, and especially that she made it home safely!!

  4. That is a great story! I am glad that he has such a nice lovey that he can depend on. I still have some of my favorite stuffed animals.

  5. Can I do first grade with Mrs D too? I had a terrible first grade teacher–I would love a do-over!

    I hope Mama Hippo got cookies and milk before her nap. She deserves it!

  6. We gave A her version of Mama Hippo (which I don’t believe she ever showed an iota of interest in :)), but I’m pretty sure you bought Mama Hippo for C yourself during your “desperate search for a lovey” phase after Julia became attached to hers. Nonetheless, I love that he thinks it came from Julia and promise to keep up the facade.

    Mrs. D is one tuned in teacher. I’m thinking C seriously lucked out with this placement.

  7. I have a confession, I still have Carebear from when I was little and my best friend still had Rabbit. Both are very tattered and torn with a face only a mother could love. Each still sleeps on the bedside table beside their respective owner. I hope mama hippo stays around for a long time 🙂

  8. Oh, what a sweet story from such a sweet young man 🙂 I think it’s wonderful that he has Mama Hippo and that he loves her so much he felt like sharing with his friends. And seriously, Mrs. D is just the Mary Poppins of teaching – if all teachers were like her imagine how amazing our schools would be!

  9. Love this story. I too fear what other kids think or say with regards to J. He is so sensitive and takes everything to heart. I love your Mrs. D too, for knowing exactly what to do.

  10. I cringed right along with you as you wove your tale so masterfully. Thank God for teachers like Mrs. D!

  11. Jennifer (ponderosa) says:

    My first grader has a leopard. He’s not quite as attached to Leopard as you describe — he only seems to be needed during times of crisis. My son got the idea for loving Leopard from his friend, who also has a leopard (his friend’s has a name, I can’t remember what it is). Every time the two friends get together, the two leopards get together… I don’t think first graders are as cynical as you fear! Not first grade boys, anyway.

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