Hearts of Yolo: Karen Adams

Friday, Dec 28, 2018

This special Hearts of Yolo installment is written by Karen Adams, one of our CASA volunteers. It was also published in the Davis Enterprise on December 26.

A Foster Child's Journey into the Magic of Christmas

By:  Karen Adams

Many children look forward to Old Sacramento’s Polar Express train ride almost as much as Christmas itself. What’s not to like about a visit to the North Pole with hot cocoa, cookies and (spoiler alert) a visit with Santa?

To foster children, though, the excursion can loom as a journey into a scary unknown. You can describe the activities and atmosphere, but still, kids don’t know exactly where they’re going or when it will end, and their parents won’t be along for the ride.

Sounds a lot like foster care itself, doesn’t it?

Two weeks ago, I got to take an 8-year-old foster child on the Polar Express, which is put on by the California State Railroad Museum based on the popular book by Chris Van Allsburg. Someone had donated tickets to Yolo County CASA, and I pounced on the chance to go with a girl I’ll call Anna to shield her identity. I’m Anna’s court-appointed special advocate as she moves through the foster care system.

Anna’s foster mom, having enjoyed the train in years past, had encouraged her to go, stressing the fun. Anna agreed, guardedly. When I picked her up, she was already nervous. Night had settled in, and the rush-hour traffic made our trip to Sacramento seem an eternity.

“I didn’t know it was going to be so far away,” Anna said in the back seat, her voice rising. “I can’t be so far from home. It’s not safe. I don’t think I can do this.… I can’t do this.”

Panic had set it. Anna has a strong bond with her foster mom, and she insisted on turning going home to her. I let her call her foster mom, who helped her calm down, and I promised that no one was forcing her to get on the train.

We made a deal to just go to McDonald’s for dinner as planned, before the train, and defer a decision on going home. Over cheeseburgers and fries, I read her the Polar Express book. Abruptly, Anna decided she wanted to go after all.

By that time, we were running late, so we raced to the museum and, luckily, boarded the Express seconds before the doors closed.

From that moment on, the evening was magic.

As we chugged along, Anna sang and danced along with the museum volunteers who made the Polar Express story come alive. She wanted selfies of us enjoying our cocoa, and then our cookies, and then the sing-along. She played peek-a-boo with the baby across the aisle.

As we approached the North Pole, I had to hold onto her to keep her from climbing out the window in excitement. She squealed and laughed, bounced and waved to Santa’s elves.

The best part? When a Santa came through the train car and gave each child a silver bell. Anna rang and rang her bell. Drawing from the lessons of the book, she repeatedly told me, “I will always believe in the magic of Christmas.”

What a night!

But the story doesn’t end there. Walking to our car after the train trip, we passed the Eagle Theatre, which was offering photos with Santa. Anna talked her way in even though we didn’t want to buy the photo.

I watched as she climbed on the stage and stood by Santa, whispering into his ear. Later, she wouldn’t say what she had told him. “It’s private,” she said archly.

I’ll never know what she wished for, but I do know that one of her fondest desires will soon come true. Last week, Anna’s foster mother got a long-awaited call from a state caseworker who gave her a very special date – the date that her adoption of Anna and her foster sister will be finalized in court.

At long last, they will become a forever family. Anna’s future, like everyone’s, will still hold scary unknowns, but I’m glad to see her entering this new journey with the magic of Christmas in her heart.

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