Kid President's Path to Awesome!

They were experienced foster parents, but these were two special needs children. Were they ready for that?

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- Posted on Nov 25, 2015

Guideposts: The Novak family (l to r) Lexi, Laurie, Robby and David

Kid President! Have you heard of him? He’s the cute little boy in a suit who gives inspirational talks from a cardboard Oval Office. His YouTube videos have inspired millions with his positive messages. But to me he’s Robby, my sweet son, who has been an inspiration to my family since before he could walk.

The week before Christmas 2003, I got a call from a children’s services case manager asking if we could take in a 17-month-old girl and, eventually, her two-month-old brother. My husband, David, and I had already been parents to 10 foster children and we were almost finished raising three of our own.

I used to run a day care in our home. Then I felt called to a new path, to help children who had no one else in their lives. David and I got certified as foster parents. We agreed not to turn down a child who needed a home. I knew what a difference a little love and attention could make.

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“There’s one thing,” the case manager said. “Both children have a condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, or OI. Which means their bones can break a little easier than normal.” I’d never heard of that condition, but I asked if the little girl could walk. The reply was, “Yes, Lexi walks using leg braces.”

I talked to my family over dinner, and we agreed to take care of her.

The next day, Lexi arrived with a different case manager. She sat in her car seat. Her legs were very curvy and bowed. There was no way she could walk on them, and there were no leg braces. But what got me the most was the look on her face. It was contorted with pain. Dear Lord, what have we gotten ourselves into? I thought.

I gingerly unbuckled Lexi and picked her up. She grimaced, but didn’t cry. It was as if she had grown used to being in pain. “We’re going to take good care of you, Lexi,” I said. She looked at me trustingly. I must have sounded more confident than I felt.

I looked up OI online and learned it’s a genetic disorder that affects the body’s ability to produce collagen, needed for strong bones. If Lexi bumped into anything it could shatter her bones. Even a bad cough could cause a rib fracture. I didn’t see how I’d ever be able to let her out of my sight.

David worked in the IT department at Freed-Hardeman University, a small Christian college, and was gone during the day, but he was committed to helping care for Lexi. We learned to roll her to the side to change her diaper, to scoop her up gently instead of picking her up under her arms.

The first few days I was hyper-vigilant. But soon I relaxed. Since Lexi couldn’t walk, and barely crawled, she stayed where I put her. I looked for things for her to do, and I read and sang to her.

Lexi’s brother, Robby, joined us on New Year’s Eve. At only six pounds, he was so precious and fragile. He was with us only four days before he broke a bone in his sleep. The next few months, he broke many more just moving his arms and legs.

His doctor eventually taught us how to splint him ourselves because he was breaking bones so often. Nothing stopped Robby, though. As he got older and more mobile, he’d drag himself, cast and all, along the floor and get into mischief.

One night after we had secured yet another splint on Robby’s leg, David and I talked about whether this was more than we could handle. We’d had older foster kids tell us they had grown up in a dozen different homes, and I didn’t want to do that to a child. We wanted to keep ours until they were moved to a permanent home, but would that be possible with Lexi and Robby?

For spring break, we took the kids to the beach, a family tradition. We had a wonderful first day there, but that night Lexi’s femur, or thighbone, snapped, just from her pulling herself up to a standing position, her first fracture while in our care. The wail she let out! We rushed her to the ER. She ended up needing surgery to have the bone set, and a full body cast.

Seeing her like that broke me. We’d said we would never turn down a child, but we couldn’t go on if we couldn’t give these kids the proper care. They needed a medical foster home or someone more qualified than we were.

“I’ll call our case manager when we get home,” I told David.

Making that call was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do. I explained why we weren’t the right home for Lexi and Robby. “Is there someone who can care for them?” I asked.

Silence. Finally the case manager said, “There’s no one else. Lexi was in several homes before yours. She and Robby have nowhere else to go right now.”

I could have insisted that the kids be removed. But the woman’s words resounded in my mind. There is no one else. Nowhere else. Wasn’t that why I’d felt called to be a foster mom in the first place, to help kids who had no one else? “We’ll keep them.” I said. “Just until you find another placement for them.”

That night I prayed like I’d never prayed before. Lord, you know what’s best for Robby and Lexi. Find them the family they need.

Morning came and with it a new sense of possibility. David and I dug deeper online and finally stumbled on a site that mentioned an expensive drug that could be given intravenously to strengthen the bones of people with OI.

A Shriners Hospital six hours away was willing to give the drug to Lexi at no cost, but according to their age limits, Robby was too young. After making the trip twice we found out that Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, closer to home, would provide the drug for both kids and insurance would cover it.

The treatment did help strengthen their bones, and made them feel better, but their bones still broke because they were bowed. Many times they broke right in front of me. Although there was nothing I could do to prevent it, I still felt like I’d failed Lexi and Robby.

Not long after Robby turned two he fractured his femur, badly. He needed surgery to have a metal rod put in to straighten and strengthen the bone. The doctor put Robby in a splint from waist to toe. He was going to be pretty much immobilized.

That night I laid Robby in bed and kissed him goodnight. His mattress was on the floor against the wall and we’d put a bed rail on the other side so he couldn’t roll off. It broke my heart to see our little perpetual-motion machine lying so still. He gazed longingly at a musical toy beside him. I set it to play one song and moved it well out of his reach.

David left for work early the next morning. I was still half-asleep when I heard music coming from…well, I knew exactly where. I dashed to the kids’ room. There was Robby holding onto the bed rail, swinging his splinted leg to the beat. Dancing! Lexi was watching him, eyes wide.

“Robby, no!” I shouted. “Stop that. You’ll hurt yourself!”

He kept dancing, the hugest grin on his face. I stared in amazement. He had fragile bones but there was nothing fragile about his spirit. His joy for life couldn’t be contained, the kind of joy that could come only from the Lord.

Wasn’t God the ultimate caregiver? If he entrusted two kids as special as Lexi and Robby to us, surely I could trust him to show us what they needed.

I ran for my video camera to capture the moment for David. As soon as Robby saw the camera, he hammed it up even more. That night David watched the video, his grin almost as big as Robby’s. “Okay, we can do this,” he said. “I just wish I had his energy.”

The longer we cared for Lexi and Robby, the more David and I loved them. And the more we felt they were meant to be part of our family. When an official from the foster-care system asked us if we’d formally adopt them, our answer was an unequivocal yes.

Lexi learned to walk, at almost four years old. Despite her more than 80 broken bones and 15 orthopedic surgeries, she has become a talented dancer. And Robby? There is no stopping him, even with more than 70 broken bones and 13 surgeries. And, well, everybody knows what Robby is into nowadays.

It all started in 2012 when my son-in- law Brad was the director of promotions in the marketing office at Freed- Hardeman. He made commercials for the university’s annual benefit dinner. That year the speaker was former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

Brad thought it would be funny to dress Robby in a suit, sit him behind a desk and have him mispronounce her name. They had such a good time with it that Brad decided to make another video poking fun at how everyone had become political experts online.

With Brad writing the scripts and Robby adding his own humor and personality, Kid President was born. At first we only shared the videos with friends and family, but they quickly spread across social media. Robby gives pep talks about being your best, being kind and loving others. Kid President has become our family project, our way of making the world a little brighter.

Just like when he was a baby, Robby has so much energy, so much joy in life, that nothing slows him down. When I tell him how his dad and I almost gave up on him and Lexi, he says, “You mean you were going to give me away?” like it’s the craziest thing he’s ever heard.

And I suppose it is, because in Robby’s world, there’s no room for the kind of self-doubt I struggled with. As Kid President says, “What if there really were two paths? I want to be on the one that leads to awesome!”

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