The subtitle of this book pretty much says it all: “In Which a 48-Year-Old Father of Three Returns to Kindergarten, Summer Camp, the Prom and Other Embarrassments.” The book chronicles the author’s “do-overs” in ten different areas:
- Kindergarten – Scarred by a teacher who seems less than qualified to be teaching young children, the author returns to try this all important first year of school over.
- School Play — Haunted by a flubbed line, the author goes back and tries to get it right this time around.
- Summer Camp — A miserable but frequent camper, the author returns to try and be the “star” instead of the dud.
- Sixth Grade — Bullied and miserable, the author wishes to give this grade another go.
- Joining A Fraternity — Admitted as an “honorary “member at age 13, the author seeks a chance to become a full-fledged member of Sigma Alpha Mu.
- Eighth Grade – A miserable outsider then, he seeks to be cooler this time around.
- The Prom — Too scared to ask his crush to the dance, the author seeks to return and have the dance he never got at the time.
- Standardized Tests — He missed the SAT and the ACT the first time around and was poorly categorized in another so he wants to go back and beat the tests.
- Childhood Home — Because of frequent moves, the author wants to revisit one of his childhood homes to examine his notion of home and family.
- Exchange Student in Japan — After leaving the exchange program early due to homesickness and culture shock, the author wants to go back and revisit the country that caused him so much misery.
Each chapter of the book chronicles the author’s do-over attempts in these ten areas. For each do-over, Mr. Hemley writes about setting up each do-over, chronicles his struggles fitting in his current family life around this “experiment,” reminisces about what it was like the first time around, and shares the lessons he gains from each do-over. There is also an introduction and an epilogue.
I thought this was a clever way to write a memoir — to revisit the moments of “failure” in life and get a chance to redo them. But really, the author is not redoing each event so much as making peace the past. As you go along, you learn quite a bit about the author’s family life (both past and present) and how he became the person he is today. The book is written in a lighthearted tone but there is a real undercurrent of regret and sorrow that cannot be hidden. In his current life, he is remarried with a young daughter but he is constantly struggling to maintain a relationship with the daughters from his first marriage. Many of the do-overs seem like attempts to find a sense of connection with his older daughters as they navigate some of the very waters that the author found so difficult.
The book is a very easy read and is often quite funny. The author has an endearing sense of self-depreciation that make it easy to relate and commiserate with him. Yet, as I said, he has some real pain in his life that he needed to revisit via these do-overs. I admire his honesty in sharing his family life and his fears — as well as his own failings and faults as a human being. More than anything, you relate to the author’s humanity. After all, we’ve all had moments of regret. Throughout the book, the author tells of how supportive and understanding people are of his do-over experiment — how they all wish they could do the same. The book practically begs you to think about the own areas of your life that you would want to revisit and redo. For me, areas I’d like to “do-over” include:
- Second Grade: This was the year I was “passed” in math despite not really understanding the basic concepts of addition and subtraction. This failure to understand the basics led to a life-long struggle and fear of math. My mother moved me out of the school I was in after this year in an effort to correct the problem, but the damage was already done.
- Graduation Dance In High School: I’m pretty sure that the boy I had a huge crush on kind of liked me and I flubbed it — big-time. He went out of his way to ask me to dance on this night, and I — being a total loser — was unable to accept that perhaps he liked me. I wish I could go back and redo this and perhaps accept that a boy that cute could actually be interested in me.
- Junior Year of College: This was the year I was supposed to go on an exchange program to France with a friend. I bailed on her at the last moment, and I’ve always regretted this decision. She ended up having a very difficult year, and I always blamed myself for that. Also, I regret that I never had the opportunity to study and travel overseas. Truly a missed opportunity.
- First Year of Motherhood: I wish I had let my son learn to fall asleep on his own during his first year of life!!! It is a mistake I’m still paying for, and I wish I’d had the guts to let him learn this important skill — even if it meant listening to him cry. Also, I wish I’d relaxed more during this time instead of being so anxious about keeping him alive.
My Final Recommendation
This was a unique and clever way to write a memoir. The “gimmick” of doing over sections of life that didn’t go so well the first time makes for an interesting read. The author’s humorous and self-deprecating tone make him very relatable, yet underneath the humor and the “do-over” conceit is a touching and somewhat sorrowful look at how regrets in life can affect your future and how revisiting these painful moments can often lead to healing and a better understanding of yourself. I think the book is definitely worth a read!
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