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Seeking A 'Do-Over' For Summer Camp, Prom

Haunted by memories of failure and embarrassing moments from his youth, award-winning writer Robin Hemley decided to go back for a second chance.

In an effort to recast his previous disappointments, the 48-year-old author revisited kindergarten, summer camp, sixth grade and the high school prom — experiences he chronicles in his new book Do-Over.

"There were things that I just couldn't let go from when I was a child," Hemley tells Liane Hansen.

Among those experiences was a strange kindergarten teacher who stepped on his back at nap time and told his parents he was going to grow up to be a thug. (The teacher, Hemley notes, had to be committed the year after he was in her class.)

So, after passing a background check and obtaining the appropriate parental permission forms, Hemley went back to kindergarten. He admits he was "more than a little conspicuous" amid his young classmates. But, he adds, "the kids immediately accepted me, not as a 5-year-old, but as a fellow kindergartner."

Also detailed is his return to summer camp, where he bunked with 10-year-old boys and was ordered around by teenage camp counselors. He says he wanted to re-do summer camp because he had been a "bad physical specimen" who couldn't play sports very well the first time around.

"I thought, 'You know, I could probably go back and actually beat a bunch of 10-year-olds at baseketball and soccer and baseball,' " he says. "In fact, I found out that I still couldn't beat them."

In his return to summer camp, Hemley learned a new term — "regressive pull" — which seemed to sum up his experiences well.

"It's this idea that if you are around a group of people who are appreciably younger than you, you actually start acting that age. So I was around a bunch of 10-year-olds, and I have to say that regressive pull had me in a headlock," he says.

Hemley also wanted to experience the high school prom, which he missed the first time around because he was too shy to ask out the girl he had a crush on. As fate would have it, when he contacted his high school to explain his plan, his would-have-been prom date was the school's alumni liaison. So Hemley — who is married with three children — was able to ask his high school crush to the prom. After she checked it with her husband, and he checked it with his wife, it worked out.

"On prom night, I took her to dinner. I also took her husband to dinner and their 8-year-old son. I doubt many prom couples do that," Hemley says.

In the end, Hemley says, reliving past traumas was a remarkable experience. "In a way I got to reoccupy past embarrassments and failures and really put them in perspective, and I realized that they are really not necessarily failures."

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