I’m going to be very honest with y’all, it was my son that didn’t want to go to camp, and part of me was OK with that. He was scared to be away from us overnight. Yes, he has been away from us, having stayed with other family for up to a week at a time, but he had never successfully slept over a friend’s house without calling us at 10 p.m. to pick him up. And if I’m being completely honest, if he wasn’t ready, then neither was I. Our children rely on us for comfort and security, and that fills my heart as a Mom. But last summer he was 9-years-old, and my husband and I decided that it was time we put on the pressure, help him get out of his comfort zone, and face his fears.

We chose El Tesoro for several reasons. We have multiple friends whose kids have been going there for years, and you can’t beat the price and location. The deciding factor was the “preview” day. My son saw that the camp looked a lot like the outdoor day camp he has gone to for years. He met some of the counselors and met some other kids. He decided which bed he wanted inside the cabin (the one closest to the counselor’s area) and on the way home, he said he was ready.

In the months/weeks leading up to camp, we didn’t talk about it much, and he didn’t really bring it up. When it was time, we spent an afternoon buying the things he needed, decorating his trunk, packing his things. He was very quiet in the car on the way there. I mean VERY QUIET! When we asked what was wrong, his bottom lip quivered a little and he said, “I’m going to miss you.” We discussed what to do if he got scared at night, and I assured him that there was nothing to worry about. He is very much a ‘What if?’ personality.

Then we arrived...He saw all the other trunks, ran across the swinging bridge, met his counselor and other boys in his cabin. And he was too cool to BARELY EVEN HUG ME WHEN WE LEFT! It was amazing! It rained a little on my face in the car, evidence of the reality that he’s growing up. The week flew by, and the house was so quiet in the evenings after work. I sent him electronic notes that I knew would be delivered to him at camp and constantly refreshed the website for looking for pictures of him.

At pickup on Friday, he ran into our arms and said “I missed you soooooo much! Can I sleep with you and Daddy tonight?” (He would KILL me for telling you that last part!) He was hot, tired, dirty, stinky, and ready to go home. But not until he introduced me to his friends and counselors. He had a wonderful time and found out that he wasn’t the only one that got scared at night.

Since camp, he has successfully stayed at friends’ sleepovers. He’s excited to go back this year but isn’t quite ready to try the 2-week session, yet, saying it’s just too long to be away from our dog. (Guess I’ve been replaced!)

My advice for first time camp parents would be:

  • Don’t MAKE them; LET them “need” you as long as you can
  • Go to the preview day
  • Realize that it’s just as good for YOU as it is for THEM!

Stacey Burgess is a parent of an El Tesoro camper and a guest blogger for Camp Fire First Texas.