It was a relief to learn that Hemley only spent a week in each place, as well as redoing several other grades, and the high school exchange program he hadn't completed in Japan. (The Japan trip doesn't appear in the subtitle, but it may be the most entertaining and touching part of the book).
For each "do-over," Hemley begins with an essay about what went wrong the first time--sometimes humorous (flubbing his one line in the school play, by tossing a gift box to The Littlest Angel shouting, "Here's your stupid box!") and sometimes tragic (a literally certifiable kindergarten teacher; a sister's mental breakdown when Robin was in eighth grade). Amongst the memories and adventure, Hemley sprinkles in a thoughtful commentary on the changing face of childhood in America. In the section about summer camp (read an excerpt here), he writes matter-of-factly,
No one paid attention to kids when I was growing up, not parents, not teachers, not counselors. Childhood was something you went off and did until you got over it. And camp was one of those places to which kids were exiled, almost as a form of punishment, a warehouse where you suffered while your parents went on that Norwegian cruise.At age 48, Hemley finds that the camp experience has evolved--kids are supported in trying new things, accepted for who they are, and camp values are posted prominently and reinforced daily by counselors and staff. Revisiting the camp where he was an unhappy 18-year-old counselor, Hemley realizes:
I guess I haven't moved on. Perhaps if I'd learned better lessons as a camper, I'd have made a better counselor. Perhaps if I'd been a better counselor, I might be a healthier adult, a better father.And this is what makes Do-Over more than just a lark. Hemley reconnects with people and experiences from his past, but more importantly, he forges ahead with the people from his present--his two daughters from a previous marriage, his wife and young child, and a baby on the way (the new baby provides the opportunity to "do-over" supporting his wife in childbirth, too--he was overseas and missed the birth of their first).
Robin Hemley has written several other books, including books about writing (when not in kindergarten, he's got a gig directing the Nonfiction Writing Program at the University of Iowa), and a memoir about his sister's mental illness.
What life experience would you do over if you could? Me, I'd want to go back to summer camp, for sure. I had great camp experiences, but I'd love to redo it without the homesickness. What about you?
The soundtrack: I added one of the songs Hemley danced to at the prom: Sean Paul's Give It Up to Me. It's in the playlist in my sidebar for now, or click on the song title to find it on last.fm.
Author: Robin Hemley
Publication info: May, 2009 (Little, Brown & Co.) 319 pages