As an estimated 25,000 Americans started evacuating from Lebanon yesterday, Laura Gabriel of Methuen faced a decision: Go home to safety with everyone else or stay behind with the baby boy she and her husband have been in the process of adopting for the last two months.
``Leaving him here is not an option," Gabriel said in a telephone interview yesterday from a hotel outside Beirut. ``He is the most amazing little boy. God bless him. We just want to bring him home."
The adoption of the couple's first child is tied up in Lebanese government paperwork, and the Gabriels are seeking help from members of Congress to break the logjam.
Just four days ago, Gabriel said, as she fed the infant on a poolside patio at the hotel, a bomb exploded a few hundred yards away at a naval base, forcing her and other hotel guests to run for shelter in the hotel basement.
``It's horrible," said Gabriel, a 31-year-old special education teacher. ``I just want to get to a safe place. We're scared."
Gabriel -- whose husband Scot , 36, a lawyer, is at their home in Methuen -- has been staying in Lebanon with her mother and father-in-law, who plan to leave when they receive the go-ahead from the US Embassy. Neither is comfortable leaving Gabriel behind with the boy.
``For me to leave my daughter alone is killing me," Susan Collins, Gabriel's mother, said in a telephone interview. ``I feel terrible. I don't know what to do. If we don't evacuate now, how long will we be here? . . . It's been a very long discouraging road."
The Gabriels spent months finding a child to adopt. They decided on Lebanon because Scot Gabriel is three-quarters Lebanese. Laura Gabriel arrived in Lebanon in May for what was supposed to be a two-week adoption process. Having gained temporary custody of the boy, she picked him up around May 25 at an orphanage in southern Lebanon, Gabriel said.
Ever since, she has been waiting for the necessary documents from the Ministry of the Interior so the US Embassy can issue a visa for the infant. Two different times, it looked as if it would happen. Then the Israelis began their air strikes.
``You can hear the planes when they bomb certain sites," Gabriel said. ``We need to get out."
US Senator Edward M. Kennedy's office sent a letter to the Lebanese ambassador to the United States yesterday morning, asking him to contact the Interior Ministry to speed up the process.
``I'm deeply moved by the extraordinary bond between Laura Gabriel and her infant son," Kennedy said in a statement. ``Paperwork should not stand in the way of bringing [him] home safely, and I'll continue to do all I can to get this matter resolved."
Although she said she would prefer coming home to the Merrimack Valley, she is willing to go to Cyprus or Europe if that's the best temporary measure until the adoption is finalized. But she and the other family members are hopeful the Interior Ministry will issue the necessary paperwork in the next few days, so she and her son can go home with her mother and father-in-law.
``My wife won't leave him, and I don't blame her," Scot Gabriel said in a telephone interview. ``As any couple suffering from infertility understands, when the orphanage gave us this baby we were elated."
``She will go anywhere, as long as it's safe and with him," he said. ``It doesn't make sense for her to stay in a war-torn country."
Over the last two months, Laura Gabriel has watched her son learn how to sit up, after which he always claps for himself. Lately, he's been trying to speak, seemingly humming, ``Mum, mum, mum, mum."
``He's discovered his voice and likes to sing," Laura Gabriel said. ``You just look at him, and he's always smiling and laughing. He loves people."
The couple already has a new name for their son, whose Lebanese name is now Maroon: Logan, in hope of a safe homecoming through Boston's airport.
James Vaznis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.