My 6-year-old son Nicholas keeps losing his Tooth Fairy money. Over the past year he’s lost three teeth and has found a total of $15 under his pillow. (Yes, the fairy has become much more generous since we were kids.) But no one knows where the $15 — three five-dollar bills — has gone.
After receiving the money, Nicholas carries it around for a few days, leaving it on the kitchen table underneath the newspaper, on the office table amid stacks of letters and in the Lego box in his bedroom. He doesn’t put it in a piggybank because he doesn’t want to forget to spend it. This is what I call thoughtlessness or carelessness — in other words, acting like a typical 6-year-old.
Adults and the Tooth Fairy
Sometimes, even adults act like they’ve just had a visit from the Tooth Fairy. They’re given something valuable and they proceed to act like they don’t really want it.
For instance, a school bus driver is given the gift of being allowed to transport children to and from school. Let me qualify that — for most drivers it’s a gift; for others, and you know who I’m talking about here, it seems to be a terrible burden. In either case, the driver has accepted the responsibility of driving a vehicle filled with other people’s children and, occasionally, his own.
Now, to extend the Tooth Fairy metaphor, the driver then proceeds to behave in strange ways, almost like he wants to lose his imaginary five-dollar bill. He fails to observe safe procedures at rail crossings. He has a bus full of children who are louder than the Fourth of July, and he doesn’t ask them to quiet down at the rail crossing. Or he doesn’t bother to open the door and look for oncoming trains. Or he doesn’t even stop at the crossing.
I bring up the latter set of scenarios because the 10-year anniversary of the Fox River Grove, Ill., school bus-train crash took place on Oct. 25. It was on that day in 1995 that the rear end of a school bus waiting at a traffic light was rammed by a commuter rail train, killing seven bus passengers and seriously injuring two dozen more.
The bus driver, who was also the driver trainer for the transportation department, wasn’t aware that the bus hadn’t fully cleared the tracks and apparently didn’t hear the students in the back of the vehicle warning her of the oncoming train.
In March 2000, another horrific school bus-train accident occurred, this time in Tennga, Ga. In that crash, the driver failed to stop at a rail crossing, and her bus was struck by a loaded freight train. It was also determined that she was playing the bus radio too loudly to hear the oncoming train. She was later convicted of criminally negligent homicide and reckless aggravated assault.
Carelessness is unacceptable
Which brings me back to the Tooth Fairy. Someday, Nicholas is going to learn to take care of his money. Maybe he’ll have the foresight to put the money into a savings account for future use. Or maybe he’ll just spend it immediately. But I think he’ll learn not to lose it.
Even if he doesn’t, I can always replace his five-dollar bills. But we can’t replace the lives of children killed in rail crossing accidents. Nor can we undo the physical and emotional damage caused by serious injuries.
Thoughtlessness and carelessness are traits often found in young children. It comes with the territory. But adults given the responsibility to pick up and deliver children to and from school can’t afford to act like young children. Nor can managers allow the continued employment of drivers who are thoughtless or careless. Too much is at stake, especially for those who still believe in the Tooth Fairy.