WARNING: Due to necessary background info - this post is long. Get over it, or move on now. If you choose option B - may the fleas of several camel herds invade your skivvies...
My four year old daughter is a stalker. She's a loving, caring, protective stalker...but truly - I think she could be categorized as a bit "obsessed".
It all started in Feb of 2007. We were invited by our local hockey team, The Columbus Blue Jackets, to their "Gold Ribbon Game". The Blue Jackets Foundation raises an incredible amount of money for pediatric cancer research and various ped onc charities. The Gold Ribbon Game is part of their efforts to raise awareness. They invite local cancer children to attend the game, participate in aspects of the game (riding the zamboni, throwing out a puck, being interviewed on the Jumbotron), and to come to a "meet and greet" with players after the game. Prior to this event, I knew absolutely zero about hockey. Post event, I knew little more about the game - but I knew I LOVED the Blue Jackets.
At first, I thought I was crazy taking 3 girls to a hockey game. All I'd ever heard was that hockey was violent and the fans liked it that way. What in the Sam-hill was I going to do with 3 of the girliest girls there ever were at a hockey game? I'm thrilled to report, I was utterly, completely mis-informed. The game was exciting, fan-friendly, and an absolute blast! We cheered, we clapped, they danced. In all, we enjoyed every moment of it!
After the game, we attended the player meet-and-greet. And there, my friends, a lovely young man named Dan Fritsche, became a victim.
Just as the meet and greet started, the team reps requested a group photo of the players, heroes (the program is called Hats for Heroes), and the police officers in attendance (the local FOP helps with HFH). An important note here - Avalon is man-shy. At Disney, she wouldn't even pose with Peter Pan, for Pete's sake. Here, they wanted her to smile with huge, scary hockey goons and guys in full-out police uniforms. All I could think was...Right, that's gonna happen...
Being that she was also the tiniest one there, I figured there wasn't a chance she'd show up in the pics. Just then, one of the players leaned down, and asked if she would let him hold her for the picture. She rather leaned back, looked him up and down (seriously, she sized him up!), and did the unthinkable...she agreed! You could have knocked me down with a feather. I thought, I'd better take a pic of this...no one we know will ever believe it.
After the pictures, the kids and their siblings were invited to take individual pictures with the guys and to have the players sign their shirts and hats. Dan was the first player we asked for a picture - so I could thank him profusely for being so gentle with her. After making the rounds of the room, she went back to him and asked for another autograph. She had completely lost track of who was who, and was just doing what everyone else was. Not only was Dan not irritated or annoyed with her...he was very amused and very kind. He told her he'd already signed her hat. At that, she cocked her head, thought about things - and promptly stuck her belly out as far as she could with, "Well OK then - you'll have to sign this!" He laughed and signed on. Poor man, he didn't know what he was in for.
A few weeks later, we were invited to our local Children's Hospital for the opening of the Columbus Blue Jackets Family Resource Center. Its a place for parents of in-house patients to go and get on the internet, do laundry, take a shower, eat. Day parents can go there to use the lockers, breastfeeding rooms, wait between appointments, etc. Its a very big deal. Avalon and a few other Heroes were there for photo ops with some players. Unfortunately, most of the players were ones she'd never seen before. Rats...we were back to Ms. Man-Shy. I took Dan aside and told him I thought she'd agree to anything, if he asked her. I explained how bashful she is, and that she really seemed to like him. He smiled, said "No Problem" and took care of her like she was his own. Avalon was never away from his side. She sat on his lap, held his hand, and did everything asked...right next to her big hero. Oh yeah...the seeds of love were planted.
Moving forward several more weeks, we were invited to be a part of a fundraiser for the CBJ Foundation and the Hats for Heroes project. A few Hero families were invited to attend BD Mongolian restaurants with Blue Jackets players - to thank people for coming and supporting the Foundation. As with the hospital, we're always willing to go to fundraising events, because no one in our family is shy about thanking people. I will hug/thank/chat with anyone gladly. I'm so grateful to have my daughter, I will never be able to thank the universe, or generous people enough. So...I went to ambassador my way around the room, and Avalon went to see...Danny.
As soon as Dan got to the restaurant, Avalon was waiting for him. At events, the players show up in street clothes, and then don the fancy jerseys that the PR team have waiting for them. Its kind of like a performer putting on a costume. Normally, they're not considered "on" until they're dressed and led into the room they're "working". Avalon could give a hoot less about the outfit. She stuck herself to Dan like a fly to a horse's heinie - the second he walked in the door. No amount of pleading on my part worked - she was stuck fast. Dan couldn't have been kinder about it. He held her hand, hugged her, and proceeded to spend the next few hours signing autographs with her on his lap. When a fan would want a picture (without Avalon!) he would gently set her down, then promptly pick her right back up. I was chatting with one of the PR team about feeling guilty she was bugging Dan. His answer? "I'm Dan's age. I would give anything to have her follow me! Don't worry, he's not bothered. He's enjoying her hugging her as much, if not more, than she's enjoying following him. Stop worrying, she's just fine."
During the course of the evening, I realized - he was right. Dan never looked cross or irritated. He looked at Avalon with genuine kindness. And not the manufactured, for-the-camera brand of kindness. No - he treated her like an uncle. When the crowds were gone and he was back to being Danny, instead of "Dan Fritsche, Columbus Blue Jacket player" (said with loud announcer voice...), he continued to "hang out" with Avalon. She "helped" him get his dinner, and fully stalked him while he ate. She worshipped him, and that was quite alright with him. Oh yeah, I fell head over heels in love too. You can't treat my daughter that well - and not expect me to love you!
Several weeks later, we did another PR event with Dan. Same as before, he annoyed fans by signing autographs with his little buddy firmly planted on his lap. He would set her down for photos - but promptly pick her back up. When too many people wanted pics, he moved a chair right next to him, so she could sit there and not have to get up and down. In all, he again, made it obvious that he really cared, not just a for-show tolerance. In all, he was a gentleman, and a wonderful friend.
Over the summer, we lost track. Avalon never stopped talking about him - but we didn't manage to keep her healthy enough to be able to meet up with Dan and his girlfriend like we had planned. He was still a huge part of our family, as Avalon included him in her "who loves me" list - but we didn't actually see him.
And now, we are finally at - today. I told you this would be long! But, if you didn't know the other stuff - you can't appreciate how funny tonight was. Tonight, we were able to attend a CBJ home game, courtesy of tickets donated to a pediatric cancer charity we are involved with. Thanks to a cancer/brain damage kid who doesn't move quickly, a baby who doesn't believe in time schedules, and a mom who needs 8 more arms, we got to the game at the end of the first period. As we were riding up to our seats in the elevator, Dan scored!!!! This was HUGE!!!
The announcer was yelling, the place was crazy - and Avalon was shrieking about "Her Danny!". You would have thought her own brother scored. The entire elevator trip (God's slowest elevator...) she talked/squealed/babbled about how "proud" she was, how happy Dan would be. She kept saying, "That's my Danny!!" The elevator operator and our fellow travelors looked at her like she was nuts. Too funny.
Once we got to our section, the ushers were kind enough to switch our seats to the wheelchair section. We merely asked where to leave her chariot - they made room for us to stay down in the open section - so she could stay in her chair. It was a very kind act, and actually worked quite well for her. Well, the next two periods were an exercise in "Dan-watching". We had to constantly update her as to his location, his actions. She got pretty good at following him herself, after a while. The funny part was her defense of him. He'd get shoved into the glass walls and she'd shriek in defense. "That's my Danny!! You be nice!" Mind you, if he got a good shot in, she'd cheer for him to smash the other guy. What a hoot!
So here I sat, middle-aged mom with a 4 yo in a wheelchair, and her 6 yo sister. (Dad, big sis, and baby brother were several seats down) Sisters 2 & 3 were both wearing purple velvet princess dresses with gold holographic sequins that sparkled like sunshine in the sodium lights of the stadium. In all, we couldn't have looked less like hockey fans. Yet, my girls were screaming like fools for their men. Its important to note, the two little ones yell for different players. Daughter #2 couldn't possibly share a crush with Daughter #3. Daughter #2 stalks her own favorite player, Jody Shelly. While she hasn't had quite as many occasions to interact with Jody, his wife understands her crush and completely endorses it by reminding her hubby to be extra kind to my 6 yo. You seriously have to love these people!
Anyway, overweight, middle-aged supermom and her two screaming princesses were quite the comical lot. The ushers around us weren't helpful - they kept egging the girls on. The band o' men in front of us - weren't helpful either, they found the girls riotously funny. So, I gave in to pressure - helped the two stalkers follow their "prey" and sat back and thoroughly enjoyed myself. And then...dum dum dum dum....it happened. (that was my pathetic attempt at forboding music) Dan was involved in an "altercation" - right below us. Mind you, we were pretty much in nosebleed section - but the view was amazing. So, yes, the "event" was far below us, but it was literally - right in "front" of us - we could see faces/expressions clearly. It started as a typical hockey scuffle - with our wonder boy getting in his fair share of beat-down. During this, Avalon was cheering him on, and yelling at the other players - all pretty normal. Then, it happened.
As the refs held Dan away from the other player, the Shark bad guy reached around the ref - and sucker-punched Dan in the face. I thought I was going to have to sit on Avalon! She started shrieking, "That's not nice!! Hey! You can't hit my Danny! I don't like that! That was MEAN!" I'm telling you - she was the picture of righteous indignation. Kids don't get any angrier than she was. The be-all, end-all was her yelling that she was going to go down there and beat that guy up. She wasn't going to let him hurt her Danny. I think the guys in front of us nearly hurt something laughing. The ushers told her she should. Oh yeah, they were helpful.
As the cameras followed Dan clear off the ice, Avalon was watching the jumbotron, "talking" to him. You would have thought he could hear every word. She carried on a full conversation with him, via his image on the jumbotron. In her mind, he even answered. That's when I really "got it". She actually thinks the entire Blue Jacket hockey enterprise exists for her! I don't think she understands that these are professional athletes. She doesn't get that thousands of people watch these players, or want to get autographs. She has no clue that millions of people watch hockey on TV or know Dan's name. All she knows is her "boyfriend" Danny wears a big red white and blue shirt, and skates around - sometimes getting into fights with nasty guys. She has no concept of his celebrity, his job, his life. To her, he's a nice guy who loves her - and sometimes other people want to say hi to him. She doesn't know why - because he's "her" friend. What a gift, to love someone so much - you're completely blind to what they really are.
For we adults, that altered view of reality can lead to poor choices, bad situations. For my tiny person, her "love is blind" approach serves her well. She sees Dan for what he really is, a kind, gentle young man with a heart of gold. She sees past what society looks at - to the real human underneath the uniform. While I do pity my dear hockey friend for being the object of her stalking, I celebrate him greatly for encouraging her delusions. He embraces her affection - and returns it. Every time he takes time to chat with her, walk with her, treat her like a princess - he gives her back a piece of her childhood that cancer stole. Cancer robbed her of innocence, freedom, and often of joy. She's suffered years of chemical torment, and faces a lifetime of pain. She has endured more medical treatments in her 4 years, than most of us in a lifetime. And yet, she is here, she is happy, she loves life, and she can still pitch a fit and threaten life and limb to "protect her man". I can't ask for more than that.
Avalon has won the heart of a stranger, and he has helped fill a part of her heart that was taken by a terrible beast. Its much easier to stand up to a mean hockey player hurting your friend, than it is to yell at your brain for not working right. Its easier to find strength holding onto a friend's hand, than it is to fight your own weak legs. Its easy to get lost in the love of a friend - because they give you support even when they don't know it. They give you hope - and something to look forward to. And sometimes, hope and love are all that get you through the day.
Yes, my daughter is a stalker. But thankfully, she found someone to stalk, that will walk slow enough she can catch up to him. She's a blessed stalker, indeed.
To "our Danny", I send a heartfelt "Thank You". You'll never know what you've given a certain little girl. ;-)
Alicia Hall - losing weight, and my mind, to raise awareness of pediatric cancer issues and torments