From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

A Dream Come True

They called it “A Dream Come True.” The staff at Air Canada had been soliciting funds and donations for a year to take a planeful of kids to Disney World for a day, and this was the day. It was earlier, of course, than any day has a right to begin—4:00 A.M.

I scraped the frost from my windshield and started the car. The Children’s Aid Society, where I worked, had been offered places for ten children in the Dream Come True flight, and we’d selected ten children, most of them in foster care, with backgrounds of poverty, neglect and abuse—children who would never otherwise get to see the Magic Kingdom. In my bag, I had the legal documents for each child, documents that with their formal language hid the reality of the traumas these young children had experienced.

We hoped that this trip would give them a glimpse into a brighter world, give them a chance to have one day of feeling special and having fun.

The chaos as we gathered at the airport before dawn was incredible. Each child was given a backpack stuffed with donated gifts, and the level of excitement was indescribable. A little girl with two brown braids asked me shyly if she could really keep the T-shirt in her backpack.

“This is all yours to keep,” I explained, showing her the contents of her backpack.

“Forever?” she asked me.

“Forever,” I said, and she rewarded me with a beaming smile. Several of the children rushed to the washrooms and put on their new clothes over the clothes they were already wearing. I couldn’t convince them that they’d be too hot with all those layers once we reached Florida. Two little girls found a travel checker game among their gifts and plopped themselves down in the middle of the airport floor to play.

Then there was Corby. He was one of the older children, almost twelve, and he looked cynically at the other children who were almost bouncing around the room. Corby sat on a chair, his arms folded, his backpack tossed on the floor.

When I walked over to him, he just looked at me without saying a word.

“What’s the matter, Corby?” I asked. I’d seen his file. I knew he’d been abused and repeatedly abandoned by a mother who breezed in and out of his life as it suited her. I don’t think anyone was sure who his father was, least of all Corby. But it’s painful to see someone so young look so cynical.

“Nothing.” He looked around. “What’s really happening, anyway?”

“You know what’s happening. First, we’re having breakfast. Then we get on the airplane and spend the day at Disney World.”

“Right.” He shook his head and turned away.

“Corby, it’s the truth.”

He didn’t believe me. Before I could say anything else, the Air Canada staff began handing out juice and muffins, and I found myself busily mopping up spills and making sure everyone got enough to eat. Soon after, we followed the path of stars that had been put in place to guide us to the right plane, and I almost forgot my conversation with Corby as I settled the kids into their seats.

As I sat down, though, I found Corby right beside me.

“So,” he said, “we’re really going on an airplane.”

“I told you.”

“Where are you really taking us?”

“Corby, we are really, truly going to Disney World.”

He shook his head again, clearly beginning to think that I was as foolish as the excited children around him. I, too, had been duped.

None of the kids in our group had ever been on an airplane before, so the trip was almost as exciting as Disney World itself. Everyone had a turn to sit by the window, to visit the pilot in the cockpit, and to order drinks or treats. Before long, we were on the ground again and emerging into ninety-degree Florida weather.

I could tell Corby was stunned. He grabbed one of the airport staff helping to unload the plane. “Is this really Florida?” he asked. The man in coveralls laughed and assured him that this was, indeed, Florida.

As we loaded the children onto the bus that took us toDis-neyWorld, Corby hung back.Hewanted to sitwithme again.

After a long silence, he said to me, “I know what’s going to happen. You’re going to leave us here, aren’t you?”

“No, we’re not. We’re going to Disney World now, and then tonight, we’re going home.”

“And do I get to go back to the Mullins?” The Mullins were his foster parents, who had shown this often very difficult boy a great deal of love.

“Yes, you’ll go back to the Mullins. I bet they’ll be waiting at the airport when we land.”

“Right.” He didn’t believe me about this, either.

The Magic Kingdom worked its magic. All the kids got Mickey Mouse ears, rode every ride once and many of them twice, stuffed themselves with quite unhealthy food, talked to SnowWhite andMinnieMouse and all the other characters, clapped loudly at all the shows, and in general had a perfect day. It was exhausting for the adults, trying to keep track of our overexcited charges, but we didn’t lose a single child. Not even Corby, who began to smile a little the second time he went through “It’s a Small World” and who loved the Haunted Mansion almost as much as I did.

As darkness began to fall over the Magic Kingdom, we rounded up the children in our groups and gave each child a twenty-dollar bill. This was for buying souvenirs in the Main Street gift shops, so that each child could have a personal reminder of this special day.

But this was where I saw a new kind of magic. First the little girl with braids said to me, “I want to buy something for my brother because he didn’t get to come. What do you think he’d like?” I helped her find a Mickey Mouse hat and yo-yo. Then another child asked for help in picking a gift for “this girl in my foster home who really wanted to come but she couldn’t.” And another wanted to purchase a gift for the teacher who had given him extra help all year.

So it went, one child after another. My eyes blurred with tears as each of these children—children who had been chosen for this trip because they came from impoverished, traumatic backgrounds—searched for the right gift for someone who had been left behind. Given a little money to spend as they chose, they spent it on others.

Finally, there was Corby.

“Are we really going home?” he asked me once more, but this time he was smiling and confident that he knew the answer.

“We’re really, really going home,” I told him.

“In that case,” he said, “I’m going to buy presents for the Mullins.”

I told him I thought that was a lovely idea and walked away before he saw me cry.

Teresa Pitman

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