Ryan Summerlin May 15, 2014
My brother and his spouse, Clayton, were en route to Brazil when the call came. Free and high-flying, international by employment and inclination, they planned to meet friends in Rio de Janeiro to ring in the New Year.
The two were delayed, though: by a missing visa, the sort of error neither — both are in the Foreign Service — is wont to make. They had to divert to Panama.
Now, as Ted puts it, “If we had caught our scheduled flight, we would have missed him.”
While they were traveling, a baby was born, and the mother, on the strength of a letter written by Ted and Clayton as prospective adoptive parents, had named them as her first choice. But the adoption facilitator couldn’t reach them.
Ted and Clayton had been trying to adopt for years. They’d even come close, in Indonesia, where my brother was Deputy Chief of Mission (number two) at the American Embassy. As foreigners and as a male couple, he and Clayton knew that approval would take special circumstances. Such a situation seemed to arise, though, with a baby girl named Septi, born with gastroschisis, in which some digestive organs protrude outside the body. She had a preliminary surgery at birth and in time would need a more extensive surgery. Ted and Clayton, with excellent health insurance, could offer that. And a home, education and love.
They visited Septi in the hospital, brought her toys, sent us photos; my mother loved the baby girl from half a world away. My older sister, visiting Jakarta, tried to help, attending interviews in support. Then the adoption stalled. The nurses in the hospital feared that Septi would languish in an orphanage, never receiving her surgery.
“Ted, can’t you bribe someone?” my law-abiding octogenarian mother exhorted.
“Mom,” he said. “I can’t do that.”
Septi’s story, I am glad to say, has a happy ending. Ted and Clayton undertook to help find her a family, and little Septi was adopted by a Japanese-Indonesian couple.
But back to Panama. Or back to the frustrated facilitator, a vigorous woman named Lil, who was calling around in search of Ted and Clayton.
“Do you think it’s a good match?” asked my mother anxiously.
“It’s what we call a perfect stork drop,” said Lil.
The baby’s mother needed to leave the hospital the next day, and so Lil also called two other couples, the next choices. Meanwhile my brother and Clayton got the message, and returned the call. They were talking with Lil when the second couple phoned in.
Asked if the two were willing to turn around immediately, Clayton answered, “Absolutely.”
Ted later wrote in his blog, in the only entry he’s since found time to make:
“If we had delayed 10 minutes in calling, perhaps he wouldn’t have been ours. But we did call.”
They spoke with the mother. Ted told me, “It felt like an audition. My heart was pounding.” When she said she wanted him and Clayton to raise her son, Ted’s eyes filled.
They caught the first plane back, flying to El Paso, Texas.
“I guess we’ll need to go to Target,” Ted told my mother when he phoned. They had nothing. They needed everything, from bottles to a car seat, clothing, diapers. They were handed a newborn baby. Their son.
These days my mother drives the hour from Annapolis, where she is caring for my ill stepfather, into Washington, D.C., where the baby lives, every chance. My sister visits from New York and takes baby TABO (an acronym of his initials) and cares for him, including overnight, letting the new dads sleep. Next week my older son, before leaving college back East, will see his new cousin. Only one person in the world has previously called me aunt, a name I love, and now there will be another.
TABO is five months old. My other sister and I follow reports of his growth and weight, check Facebook for photos of his smiles and blooming cheeks, watch video of him “practicing his vocals.” My brother has just been nominated as ambassador to a country nine time zones away, so TABO may be taken away in the autumn. But with the Web I can still see him grow and thrive, feel part of it all. It’s a whole new world.
— “Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at email@example.com.