Mich. pair opens hearts to more kids

SEAN PROCTOR Jackson Citizen Patriot Published:

RIVES JUNCTION, Mich. -- A normal day is every weekday at the home of Sue and Ron Riker.

"Whatever normal is," Sue said.

At 5:45 a.m. at the flick of a switch, the Rikers' Rives Junction home slowly comes to life and the daily task of caring for three children with cerebral palsy begins.

Sue works on waking up her 15-year-old son, Cory. He'll need to be out the door by 6:35 a.m. She yells up the staircase a couple of times while packing his lunch.

A pot of coffee starts a slow drip at 7 a.m., waking Ron, her husband of 42 years, to get the other kids out of bed. Both Sue and Ron quietly slip into Bryan's room. The 16-year-old will take more coaxing than Cory. They'll need to hurry to get him dressed, fed and to his 8 a.m. bus ride to school.

On this morning, he's squirming. Ron and Sue take off the covers and change Bryan's clothes. A sound from the other room alerts them that 3-year-old Nathan is up. Ron heads off to comfort Nathan while Sue continues to stir Bryan.

Ron returns to Bryan's room where he picks Bryan up and sets him in his chair. Positioning the padding and adjusting Bryan's legs, they hook him up to a feeding tube and Sue takes care of the daily hygiene.

Cerebral palsy, a physical disability that directly affects motor control centers of the brain, causes Bryan's joints and muscle tone to tighten. He's stiff with scoliosis. Confined to a wheelchair, he can barely hold his head up. He doesn't want to get up because he didn't sleep well.

As Sue brushes Bryan's teeth, Nathan scoots around the floor, pushing himself along with his left hand. His other arm is tightly held to his chest.

Nathan's cerebral palsy is different. With Bryan, the Rikers know his condition and his limits; with Nathan, they're unsure. He's still growing. The shunt leading to the missing part of his left brain is not. It can shut down. Something can go wrong. According to Sue, it's something that is always at the back of their minds.

And they still have to think about Cory.

His cerebral palsy is less severe. His mobility is limited in the right hand and leg. He doesn't have the same flexibility or range of motion he has in his left.

"We just always try to tell them it didn't matter. You're in our family. You're our son or daughter, brother or sister," Ron said. "We're family. We're all together."

When 8 a.m. comes, Ron wheels Bryan out to the bus that will take him to school at the Lyle Torrent Center. Nathan is feeding, and his clothes are changed. Finally, Ron and Sue can take a moment to themselves. Their phones light up. Their 23-year-old, Tammy, has sent her daily text message with an inspirational quote or a bible verse.

"(Bryan has) taught our family a lot. We just take for granted the things we can do, just a simple thing like holding your head up, Bryan can't do totally. Our kids have learned, through Bryan, to appreciate the things we can do, and don't take anything for granted," Sue said. "He's been a real blessing. It is a challenge, but when he smiles or says something, it's all worth it."

At 60, you wouldn't expect Ron and Sue to have a 3-year-old son. Maybe a grandson, as their oldest, Jason, 37, has seven children of his own. The couple had two other biological children: Tracie, 35 and Stephanie, 28.

A family of five growing up in 1980s, running around to Boy Scout meetings, swimming and playing football like every other family. Still, they weren't complete.

"We felt compelled," Ron said.

Compelled to adopt. Five children, eight in all.

Tammy was their first adoption at 11 months old. Foster care is how Bryan, Cory and Nathan joined the Riker family. Bryan in 1996. Cory in 2000. Nathan in November.

Since 1993, the Rikers have seen about 30 foster babies come and go. Sue has kept pretty good record of them all, too.

"The biggest challenge was not falling totally in love with them. Because you do, when you have them for a month or two. You want to bond with them and you have to be careful because you know they're leaving," she said.

But that wasn't the only challenge. Open to fostering children of all races, the Rikers took in multiple black children, including Cory.

"We used to get a lot of looks," Ron said.

After adopting Nathan last year, they stopped fostering. With four kids in the household, it was time to focus solely on them.

"We're just tied down. We have kids," Sue added. "That's what we've chosen to do. Every once in a while you think it'd be nice to just get in the car and go to a restaurant for a half hour or an hour, but we just can't do it."

Ron and Sue said they feel God played a major role in getting them to where they are today.

"On challenging days I know He's with me and helping me through it. Faith has had a big role in all of this," Sue said.

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.