350 (Or So) Words On: Christmas Toys

So the hottest, must-have toy this Christmas is something called Hatchimals.

Y’all know about these?

It’s a toy animal of indeterminate species that comes inside an egg. Kids care for the eggs — like interactive little hens. They tap the shell, and the animal inside taps back. They can gauge the mood of the animal inside by its eye color, which is visible through the shell. They take care of it until it “hatches” into one of several animals that kids teach to walk, talk and dance.

Apparently, children love them. In fact, the toy is so popular right now that when I went to Google, I only entered H-A-T, and the first two things that popped up were “Hatchimals” and “Hatchimals Amazon.”

Spin Master, the toy creator, posted a message on its website for parents whose frantic search for Hatchimals is proving fruitless: “The consumer response to Hatchimals has been extraordinary, exceeding all expectations…. We have increased production and a whole new batch of Hatchimals will be ready to hatch in 2017.”

In my exhaustive research for this article (that is, when I Googled Hatchimals), I saw prices ranging from $59.99 at Target, to $234.73 at WalMart, to $2,500 on eBay (but that one had free shipping, so there’s that). Apparently, versions are manufactured exclusively for certain retailers.

The Hatchimals craze calls to mind some of the other must-have toys of Christmases past.

In other years, parents sold their souls at Christmastime to acquire Nintendo Wii, Tickle Me Elmo or Buzz Lightyear. Before that it was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Pogs (coin-like disks whose popularity I never understood) and Teletubbies, to name just a few.

Remember when the Furby came out?

In 1998, Tiger Electronics released the cute little creature that started out speaking “Furbish;” kids taught him to speak English. I hated him. I spent countless hours that year frantically searching stores all over North Georgia trying to find one for my daughter, Jeffrey. I ended up buying one off somebody in a parking lot for, like, $125.

If you have a lasting memory of a hot Christmas toy, please post a comment.

And happy hunting!


350 (or so) Words On: School Bus Safety

They started holding funerals over the weekend for those six little children killed last week in that Chattanooga school bus crash.

     Police say the bus driver was speeding when he crashed on a narrow residential street. Driver Johnthony Walker faces multiple counts of vehicular homicide. According to The Chattanooga Times Free Press, parents and administrators previously had complained that the driver was speeding, driving recklessly and showing disregard for the children on his bus.

     Walker, like a growing number of those who drive the nation’s school children, worked for a private contractor. He will be dealt with by the courts.

     But the crash raises an interesting question: Why were there no seat belts on the bus?

     The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Safety Council recommend three-point seat/shoulder belts, similar to those in cars, on school buses. But federal regulators leave the matter up to the states. Only New York, California, Florida, New Jersey, Louisiana and Texas require them.

     Five years ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation, which says school buses are the safest form of school transport in the country, opted not to pursue a propose rule that would have mandated three-point seat belts on school buses.

     The agency said that such a federal mandate would have saved two lives a year – and that’s assuming 100 percent seat belt usage.

     In a twist of cruel, sad irony, the DOT said that the added cost of installing seat belts on school buses – estimated at about $7,000-$10,000 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — could very well force local communities to reduce the number of school buses.

     Such a reduction in available school buses would push students toward less safe modes of school transport – which could result in an additional 10 to 19 deaths a year, the DOT said.

     All of that makes sense.

     But I can’t imagine it providing even a shred of comfort to the families planning those funerals.