The First Sleep-Away Camp Experience

On Sunday night, I packed up my oldest daughter and sent her off to our Associate Pastor’s house, where she and about 20 of her closest friends stayed the night. Early Monday morning, they departed for camp in South Georgia. I think this is her 4th year going to this camp. She absolutely loves it, and I love how good she is when she gets home. 😉

This year, we also decided to do a trial run with our boys at a sleep away church camp. They’re still too young to go with the older teenagers to our church’s camp, so we found a local Baptist church that runs a camp about 15 minutes from our house. The rule of the camp is that you must be going into 2nd grade in order to stay the night, and both Zander and Jace meet those qualifications.

I was a little iffy about Jace going. He’s always been a Mama’s boy, and he doesn’t do well if he’s not home with us. {Unless he’s at my MIL’s house.} And Zander is just so shy that I never imagined he would be able to stay all week outside and away from home. I just knew that one of them wasn’t going to make it. I just wasn’t sure which one would cave first. Before we sent them off to camp, though, we told them that this was an all-or-nothing deal. If I got a phone call that I needed to come get them, there would be no second chances. They would come home, and they would have no fun the rest of the week.

My kids know that I always follow through on my threats, so I hoped we would be ok. I was really hoping that since both the boys had each other – and that they’d be sharing the same tent – that everything would be just fine.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Around 9 o’clock Monday night, I decided I was going to hit the sack. I put the 3 younger kids to bed, and climbed into my own bed. I closed my eyes, but sleep wouldn’t come. I just knew my phone was going to go off.

At 10:00, my phone rang. It was Ashley. She was having a great time, and she just called to say goodnight. {Love my girl!} She promised to call the next night, and we hung up. All was well, so I could finally sleep, right?

Wrong again. I just couldn’t seem to fall asleep. I watched the clock tick away the minutes, and waited for my phone to ring again.

At 11:01, I got another phone call. This time it was a hysterical little boy, crying his heart out. “I couldn’t do it, Mama. I tried, but I’m so afraid a bear is going to eat me.”

Sigh. Jace.

I reminded him that if I came to get him, that was the end of his fun. He said ok, so I got dressed and headed to the camp.

The camp was pitch black by this time, except for a roaring camp fire. {Oh, how I wanted to stay and sing songs and roast marshmallows… but no, I had to fumble my way to the meeting tent in the pitch black and find my son.}

When I finally got to the tent and found Jace, he was more than ready to go. He had his bags all packed, {or so we thought}, and he was clutching to his pillow so tightly that his hands were purple. I knew there was no chance of talking him into staying. When Jace makes up his mind that something is going to be bad, there’s no convincing him otherwise.

The ride home was silent. He wouldn’t talk to me, wouldn’t answer any of the questions I asked, just sat it complete silence.

That night, we got home and discovered half of his stuff was missing. His pajamas were gone, along with 3 pairs of shorts, 5 t-shirts, and both swimming trunks. His excuse? “I thought you were coming right that minute, and I didn’t want you to leave the camp without me.”


So, yesterday morning, I called up one of his counselors and headed back to the camp to get the items he left behind.

And, I won’t lie – I was anxious to see how Zander did overnight. Zander is very shy and VERY reserved, and camping is totally not his thing. I was nervous that he didn’t do well through the night and would be in complete panic mode.

Again, totally wrong.

We got there and Zander was having a BALL. They had to force him to come help Jace and I find their tent and get all of Jace’s stuff. He didn’t want to leave his class, not for a minute. I was so relieved! Zander was doing so great. And, Jace was SO jealous. He hated that Zander was having such a good time and that he was missing out on all the fun.

I overheard him ask his counselor if he could have another chance. He wanted to come back and stay the night and not go home this time. Then I heard the counselor say, “I’m sorry, son, but since you went home, we gave your spot in the tent to another little boy that wanted to stay the night but couldn’t because there was no room.”

With tears streaming down his face, Jace headed back to me. I’m pretty sure he’s learned his lesson, and I don’t think he’ll call home again. But, he’ll have to suffer the rest of the week at home. Maybe next year he’ll decide he’s big enough to sleep away from home and have all the fun that Zander is having right now…


What was your child’s first experience with sleep away camp like? Was it harder on you or them?