He is my first boy. Many things that come easy to me with my girls are difficult with my son. I’m not sure how to play with action figures and make car noises while madly crashing the cars into one another. I try. I really do. But my heart’s not in it, and I know he can tell. I know plenty about tea parties and dress-up, but beyond that, I am lost. Finding a way to connect with my son by doing something he loves has been a challenge.

My son has a passion for outdoorsy things, so when he was nine and asked me to go camping with him, I knew I should take it seriously. He had camped in the yard before when he was younger, but he never made it all night. It had become a personal goal for him to camp for a full night. I still remember the hope flickering in his eyes when he asked, “Mommy, will you camp out with me?”

A very big part of me wanted to say no immediately. My brain was bombarding me with reasons to do so.

You aren’t young anymore.

Camping in your 40s isn’t the same as when you were a child.

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You have a bad back and chronic pain; sleeping on the ground is going to trigger all kinds of uncomfortable flares.

You won’t be able to sleep, and you will be too tired to function the next day.

It’s going to be a little bit chilly overnight.

But then, I heard God loud and clear. This is important to him, and he will never forget your response. I will give you the strength you need to do this. Your son needs this. He’s only little once.

I listened to God, and I answered my son with an enthusiastic, “OK, let’s do this!”

I will always remember the pure elation that radiated from his entire little body as he ran to gather all the things we needed.

I could hear him giggling the whole time as he conversed with himself about the items he was collecting.

We settled into the little tent in our backyard, not far from the tree line, and I read my boy a couple of stories by the warm glow of the lantern. For a time, we listened to the sound of the frog symphony of the nearby pond. The eerie howl of coyotes in the distance didn’t even prompt him to move closer to me. He knew he was OK. He knew he was safewith his mommy.

We said our prayers and thanked God for the beautiful night. It didn’t take long for exhaustion to triumph over excitement, and my sweet boy drifted peacefully off to sleep.

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Though I tried, slumber never came. My air mattress slowly leaked air, and after only a couple of hours, it was mostly deflated. The only thing that separated my aching lower body from the cold, hard ground was the thin floor of the tent. The night was colder than I had anticipated, and the blanket I had was not sufficient. I shivered, but my boy was snug in his sleeping bag.

It was a very long, moderately painful night. But watching him sleep was a blessing I won’t forget.

And when his sleepy eyes opened and saw that the sun had finally peeked over the horizon, the smile on his face was precious when he asked, “I made it all night, didn’t I, Mommy?”

I nodded and smiled, knowing we would both remember that moment forever.  

Emily J. Merrick

Emily J. Merrick has a Bachelor's Degree in Family Studies from the University of Kentucky. She worked in a variety of social work and educational settings before becoming a full-time stay-at-home-mom in 2002. She and her (high-school sweetheart) husband have been together for almost 30 years and married for 24. Emily is a mother of six. Her third child passed away after heart surgery. Emily's five living children range in age from 19 down to 5. She ran a very successful Etsy shop from home for six years before becoming disabled in 2021. She now shares her experience through writing and enjoys time at home with her family and pets on 12 beautiful, rural acres in Kentucky.