The Tag-Along Kid

I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel. 

– Rachel Carson

Cover photo courtesy of Bri Loveall

Yesterday, as I helped my almost five-year-old son into his snow gear before donning my own, I marveled at the fact that I even knew how to be outside. That concept, the notion of “knowing how to be outside,” might seem ridiculous, especially in a region as diverse as ours. The reality is that most of us can point to a few people (more if you were fortunate) who taught you, somewhere throughout your life, how to enjoy being outside.

When I was still an angsty teenager, I befriended a girl who would not only become my best friend, but whose family would usher me into their own. I was the tag-along kid with a chaotic and unpredictable home life who craved normalcy and didn’t know where to look for it.

I’m not sure my friend knew what she was signing up for the first weekend we went skiing together after I’d lied and said I knew how to ski. That day up on the mountain, in gear my best friends’ parents had loaned me, my friend patiently taught me how to ski. I crashed, tipped, tripped, slipped, and popped out of my skis at almost every attempted turn. By lunchtime, we had just barely completed one run. In the ski lodge I sat dejected, sure this newfound friendship was already over and that I would never be invited anywhere ever again.

Instead, my friend slid a sandwich over to me, one she and her family had made that morning, and asked me if I was having fun. I began apologizing profusely, telling her she didn’t have to stick with me after lunch, but she just shrugged and reminded me that we all start somewhere.

After that weekend, my friend and her family became a constant in my life. They often paid for my lift tickets (something my family couldn’t afford), packed my lunches, and loaned me whatever gear I needed. I learned not just how to ski, but how to have fun even when I was cold and wet and tired. Later in the year, they took me to their family’s lake cabin where we tubed at ridiculously fast paces behind their boat before it broke down and my friend and I had to swim it home. It was some of the most fun I’d ever had.  

Courtesy of Bri Loveall

It wasn’t that anyone went out of the way to quote me Rachel Carson or Ralph Waldo Emerson while strolling through the woods at dusk. The funny thing about learning is that we often don’t realize when it’s happening. When I look back on those early years when I was the tag along kid who always needed a ride, or sleeping bag, or extra gloves, I realize I wasn’t just learning how to ski or camp, but that nature was a constant I could rely on.

My friend’s family went out of their way to love and include me in their outdoors adventures. I might have learned to love the natural world without their help, but I doubt it. Never underestimate the power of bringing someone along for an adventure, whether it be a niece or nephew, a coworker who’s never hiked Antoine Peak before, or your own kid’s angsty teenage friend.

Now, I slide into my own snowpants, putting on my gloves before my jacket and laughing at a memory of my friend teaching me to do the same. And then my son and I head outside to play. //

Bri Loveall is spending her time reading, drinking tea, and making plans for the summer.

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