TWIN FALLS — Amanda Connors cradled a baby girl dressed in pink as she tried to maneuver tiny feet into new boots from which tags still dangled. The baby reached for Connors’ silver cross necklace with chubby fingers just as she got the second boot on.
“Every time I go to the store I come back with something for them,” Connors said.
She remembers the first time the baby rolled over without getting stuck on her shoulder. It was seven months ago, while Connors was changing her at 2:30 a.m., and the 2-month-old had just come to live with her.
“Now she’s just all over,” Connors said.
Connors, 29, isn’t the baby’s biological mother, but as a foster mother she has stepped into the role of a parent in every way.
Connors was there when the baby crawled for the first time and opened her first Christmas presents — more interested in the wrapping paper than the gifts inside. The baby is happy most of the time. She likes rice cakes and loves the taste of bacon. She also likes other children interacting with her.
Recently, the girl has been trying to pull herself up to walk. She likes playing with trucks belonging to Connors’ two foster sons because they help her walk. On March 6, she pushed a yellow backhoe across the carpet in Connors’ Twin Falls home.
In four days, she would be 10 months old.
The last time Connors was in court for the baby, she told the judge she’d like to adopt her. The baby’s grandmother was there and said she was open to the idea.
But Connors knows not to get her hopes too high. The baby could go back to her mother or father.
“You got to keep that thought in the back of your mind,” Connors said. “It’s bittersweet.”
‘So many calls’
Connors has been a foster parent for only nine months but has cared for nine children.
“There are so many kids in foster care,” Connors said. “I get so many calls.”
Licensed for three children, she has four in her care.
A wall in her living room features photos of children Connors has fostered. In one, two boys are dabbing — posing with their arms across their faces. In another Connors sticks out her tongue with a boy whose eyes are wide and mouth open.
A sign on another wall says: “Family Rules — Always tell the truth, laugh, dream big.”
On March 6, clothes sloshed in a washing machine in the hallway. In Connors’ home, laundry is a nonstop chore.
“I can’t believe how many clothes they have,” she said.
But when the children arrive, they often show up with little or nothing at all. The baby came with a basket of belongings, and the 16-year-old had a box. The 6-year-old had a few outfits, but none fit. Connors keeps spare clothes on hand in case a child arrives with nothing.
Though Connors has been a foster parent for less than a year, she isn’t new to the foster care system.
Growing up in Twin Falls and Jerome, she was 11 when she entered foster care, removed from the care of a mother and stepfather. Her experiences shaped her desire to be a foster parent.
During Christmas, Connors raised enough money from donors to hold a holiday party for 260 foster children at Radio Rondevoo.
“Being a foster parent has changed my life for good,” she said.
Connors’ mother and stepfather give birthday presents to all her foster children.
“My whole family is really supportive with it,” she said. “It definitely surprised me.”
In the dining room, a birthday sign still hung next to the table. Connors’ 6-year-old foster son, who celebrated a birthday in February, emerged from the hallway with damp hair.
“How was your bath, buddy?” she asked.
“Good,” he replied.
“I think your shirt is on backwards,” she said.
Asked if his pants fit, he nodded, looking down, as his pant legs dragged on the carpet. Connors asked if he was hungry, and he nodded again.
“Yeah? What do you want? You want a sandwich? You want peanut butter, or you want ham?”
The boy chose ham along with string cheese and juice in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cup. He pulled the cheese apart and let it hang from his mouth. Connors’ dog, Layla, barked from the backyard.
The 6-year-old shares a room with another foster child, 3-year-old Gus. They sleep in a bunk bed with basketball- and baseball-printed sheets. Soon Connors will start potty-training Gus — a new endeavor for the foster mother. When the children get upset or act up, Connors puts them in timeout or has them sit in their rooms.
Connors once lived in the home of a woman who spoke Spanish and very little English. They had a lot of problems communicating. The woman worked evenings, Connors recalled, and didn’t let her stray far from the front yard. Connors felt more connected with the woman’s mother-in-law but eventually ran away to a bowling alley.
“Bless her soul for taking me in, but I was a teenager,” she said.
After that, a friend’s grandparents, who were foster parents, opened their home to her.
a long way’
Recently, Connors’ 16-year-old foster daughter wanted a bigger bed. Connors made her a deal: If she made her bed every day, she’d get a bigger one.
On March 6, a Care Bear was propped against the pillows of the teen’s neatly made bed. A deflated Valentine’s Day balloon was tacked to the wall near her tidy desk. Connors kept her promise, and so has her foster daughter.
“She’s come a long way,” Connors said. “I’m so proud of her. She’s got A’s and B’s. She’s pretty open with me; a lot of my personal experiences are hand in hand with hers.”
And because Connors can provide her with a stable home, the 16-year-old has been able to participate in high school sports.
“Sometimes you don’t know where you’ll sleep,” Connors said. “You just have a feeling when you know it’s not your home.”
In the living room, the 6-year-old started to unbox one of his birthday presents — a Hot Wheels racecourse. Connors helped him find pieces to snap together. The baby helped too; she had one Hot Wheels sticker on her hand, and the rest of the sticker sheet in her mouth.
“You see this one right here,” Connors said, pointing to a purple plastic piece. “You want one of those. Yeah, this one right here.”
They searched for a piece in the pile before realizing the baby had it all along. The stickers were a bit soggy.
“Ewww!” the boy said.
His cars took a few turns down the spiral course before they had to put on their coats and shoes to walk to the bus. The boy attends half-day kindergarten, and the next time Connors would see him, he’d be asleep. Connors works from 2 to 10:30 p.m. and picks up her foster children from day care after work.
Connors reminded the boy to grab his glasses, and the dryer’s buzzer sounded just before they walked out the door.
It was a blustery but short walk to the bus. A mother and son emerged from a nearby house just as the bus pulled up. The woman called to her son, “Bye, buddy. Love you.”
Connors held a blanket over the baby’s head as the 6-year-old boarded the bus.
“All right, buddy,” she said, “have a good day at school.”
When people sign up to become a foster parents, they take on not only the responsibility for children, but also interactions with biological parents.
Connors brought Gus to First Federal Bank Park on March 18 for his weekly one-hour visit with his mother, Sara Bloss, who lost custody while jailed on drug charges. Usually biological parents have their supervised visits at the Idaho Department of Heath and Welfare, but Bloss said she’s doing so well that the judge agreed to let Connors conduct the visits.
Connors said Bloss is the only parent or other relative who shows up every time she schedules a visit. When relatives don’t show up, Connors tries to make her foster children feel better by taking them for ice cream or letting them pick out a toy at the dollar store.
The park swarmed with children gliding on swings, sailing down slides and scrambling up fake rocks. Gus — wearing a Superman hat and black and red jacket — smiled widely, taking off across the park.
“Gussy!” Bloss called, chasing him.
Connors hung back by the entrance, taking out her cellphone as she sat on a bench. Connors likes to keep her distance so mother and son can play without distraction. Once in a while she looked up and scanned the park for the pair.
“Oh, my! That’s so cute,” Connors said as Bloss pushed Gus on a zip line swing. Then Gus ran toward the empty splash pad on the other side of the park. Bloss followed and asked where he was going.
“You’re a crazy guy,” she told him.
Gus walked under the water-stained multicolored rings. Bloss picked him up and hugged him, and he squirmed to get out of her embrace.
“Let’s go play on the toys, silly,” she said.
Gus ran behind the bathrooms before making his way toward a slide in the middle of the park.
Bloss dialed her cellphone, holding it to her ear.
“Hi, Daddy,” she said. “Yeah, I told you I got him at 4.”
At first, Gus ignored the phone his mother held out. He started climbing the slide’s ladder, but Bloss held the phone to his ear. He smiled at his father’s voice, speaking from a Kuna prison. Bloss followed Gus as he slid down, the phone in her hand on speaker mode. The phone sat on Gus’ lap when he wanted to swing.
“Mom!” Gus yelled, looking in Connors’ direction. “Mom! Mom!”
Bloss also turned and tried to get her attention. “Amanda!”
Bloss said she often tells Connors to join them during their visit, but Connors never does. Today, however, Connors pushed mother and son as they lay on a red swing big enough for two. The smell of burning irrigation ditches infiltrated the park, and bubbles from a nearby bubble machine drifted toward the three.
“How is this swing?” Connors asked.
“Relaxing,” Bloss replied, holding Gus on her stomach so they were face to face.
After Gus had enough swinging, he spotted a bench full of McDonald’s Happy Meals and grabbed one, but Bloss took it from him before he could open it. In response, Gus emptied the blue Tic Tacs she gave him on the green turf. When the container was empty, he threw it.
Later he grabbed his mother’s sunglasses and threw them. A lens popped out when they hit the ground.
“That’s OK,” Bloss said, retrieving them.
Gus crawled inside a red plastic dome and plopped down. He was tired of the park and wanted ice cream.
“Are you going to be nice?” Connors asked when he emerged.
Gus said he would, and his mother kissed his cheek as he stared across the park at no one in particular.
Editor's note: This story has been revised to eliminate an error regarding the reasons Amanda Connors became a foster child.