Rachel Hillestad has been fostering children since 2010. But after six years, the goodbyes haven’t gotten any easier.
“It took his left-behind toothbrush to undo me. I’m sitting here in a parking lot sobbing my guts out,” the mother of three from Overland Park, Kansas, wrote in a Friday, December 2 Facebook post. “He was mine for two and a half weeks, but those days and nights saw him smile, sleep through the night instead of freezing awake in terror and swing for hours on the swings my kids take for granted.”
In the accompanying photo, Hillstad is clutching a yellow Cookie Monster toothbrush that belonged to the toddler.
“The number one thing people say to me is, ‘I could never do foster care. I would get too attached,’” Hillestad shared. “Guess what: I’m just like you. I ‘got attached.’ I was the only one who could get him to sleep or knew exactly what kind of jam he liked on his toast. I helped him through his diarrhea and got frustrated when he broke Christmas ornaments. I watched him as he slept. “
Hillestad, who has fostered more than 70 kids, continued: “They visit me in my dreams, and sometimes I wake up with a wet face. It hurts. Sometimes in those moments it hurts to breathe.”
But the writer, 37, argues that the experience is worth the pain of letting go. “There is absolutely no reason that an 8-year-old who watched his mother be murdered not know the love of a stranger,” Hillestad insisted. “It’s absolutely criminal that a 2-year-old sit in a social worker’s office for two days in dirty clothes because I’m afraid I’d get too attached. Getting attached been the greatest pleasure and honor of my entire life.”
Hillestad’s post went viral with more than 71,000 likes and more than 41,000 shares.
“It’s a shame that so many good people will never know the joy of tending to a traumatized child simply because they can’t see beyond their fear,” she told Us Weekly. “I’d have each and every one of those kids again in a heartbeat.”
Meanwhile, Hillestad misses the little boy behind the toothbrush every day. “His sunny disposition and care for others in spirit of — or maybe because of —his own trauma inspired me,” she tells Us. “It's hard to be annoyed that you have to get the tires rotated on your car or the lawn needs raking when you have those things.”
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