Written By Teen Writer Asher DeBartolo Heldfond
I love animals. I always have. You know how some little kids are obsessed with space or dinosaurs? From the first minute I can remember, I read every book, saw every movie, and played every video game about animals that I could find. I memorized and recited animal facts the way some guys (like my dad) rattle off football or golf stats. My parents
like to tell people about taking me to a zoo when I was just four years old—apparently, I completely showed up the tour guide.
Luckily, our guides were much better this summer when my parents took me on a two-week safari in Africa. It was amazing!
It really was the best trip of my life and we saw and did so many awesome things, but there were definitely personal challenges for each of us.
For example, my mom doesn’t love to fly, and we had to do a lot of it to get from our home in Florida all the way to Botswana. We spent more than a day up in the air each way, and between Johannesburg and the bush, it was all on very small planes. There weren’t even airports—they had to clear animals off the airstrip before we could land! She’s also kind of a neat freak, and there’s nothing clean about staying in tents (even really nice ones) for two weeks. Dad and I were really proud of her though—she never complained once, even when bugs were swarming our food.
One of her favorite parts of the trip was straight out of Dad’s worst nightmare: none of our phones worked. It forced us to actually talk all the time, which ended up being just fine. There was a lot to see and do and a lot to talk about. Dad, always a trooper, still found a way to bug Mom with his phone, shooting videos constantly.
As for me, well, I’m not a morning person or a cold weather person. It was winter in Africa, so when we woke up every morning at 5:45 to go on our safari drives, it was really cold. I was super excited to be there, though, so I was out of bed and ready to go every day anyways. Just saying—if my school had more tigers, maybe my parents wouldn’t have such a hard time getting me out of bed.
The camps aren’t closed off or anything, so we could hear everything around us all night—hyenas, elephants, hippos, and a whole bunch of other animals that would have no problem squishing and/or eating us. I stayed in a tent with Mom (although that didn’t save us from almost getting trampled by a rushing bull elephant!).
One thing that wasn’t a challenge at all? My mom and dad have been divorced for over a decade.
We knew we wanted to make this trip even before my parents got divorced, and we knew we wanted to make it together. They still joke that the only thing that could have made their split really bad wasn’t romance or finance—it would have been if one of them had snuck me off on a safari alone. It was really special for all of us to have this experience together.
Our family is much bigger now than just the three of us. I have two stepparents, Chad and Nadia, and two siblings, Izzy and Jackson. They couldn’t join us for the safari, but we travel other places and do stuff together all the time. Dad, Nadia, Izzy and Jackson live just a few blocks away from Mom and Chad, and I spend equal time at both houses. We Facetimed with the rest of our family every night. Dad’s convinced Mom and I were stealing all the bandwidth, because he could never get a signal until we went to sleep, and then my brother and sister would tell him that they’d already talked to Coco (that’s what they call my mom) and Bubba (that’s what they call me).
On the trip home, we stopped in Dubai. When we planned our trip, we had all sorts of ideas for everything we wanted to do there, but by the time we arrived, we’d spent all of our energy. We ended up just hanging out at the hotel. I’m sure we’ll go back someday for all the mosques and camel rides and night golf (and we’ll probably take everyone else with us). We change plans all the time to do what’s right for the whole family, and it was better for us to just be together than to follow some itinerary that didn’t fit us. I got sick on the flight, and I was still way too sick to eat dinner once we got there, so Mom and Dad ate together that night. They’ve been friends now for a really long time—they don’t just put on a happy face when I’m around.
People are always surprised by my family. As soon as you tell someone your parents aren’t together, they make a sad face, and I can certainly see why. A lot of my friends have divorced parents. Some of their parents can’t even talk to each other anymore—none of them are planning vacations like ours. People don’t really understand how awesome my family is until they see us in action!
My parents have always been really honest with me about their divorce. I was only three when they split up, but I’ve grown up knowing what the plan was and doing my part to help build our new, weird (in a good way!) family. From the earliest days, Mom and Dad have stressed how important it is for us to communicate and to take care of each other. They’re both really into finding solutions and getting things done and having fun; they wanted their divorce to reflect that so that our family could build on a foundation that looked like the life we wanted together.
Mom and Dad signed the final papers in their own version of a collaborative divorce before basically anybody knew that’s what it was even called. (There definitely wasn’t an app for it!) They had to design pretty much all of their agreements themselves, and they worked hard to keep lawyers out of the actual decisions. We are the world’s leading experts in our family and our future, and no one else’s opinions really mattered.
When my parents heard about ItsOverEasy and what Laura Wasser is doing, they were excited. It’s exactly the kind of expertise they fought so hard to find. It gives other families the chance to control their own divorces. It makes it easier for people to change the direction of their futures, to build the post-divorce relationships and lives they want. We all get really bummed when we hear about people who’ve gone through really painful divorces. It makes me sad to think that most kids of divorced parents won’t have what I consider normal: one big, loud family with many members who all love each other, who love spending time together, and who do cool things as a group. It can be way better than anyone tells you, and sites like this will help so many people figure that out for themselves.
This year, I’m getting a unique birthday present: the book my parents wrote together about our family is coming out! On October 1, 2019, I turn sixteen (which is already a pretty big deal) and the whole world gets to read our story. I’m excited about the conversations they’re starting and the opportunities ItsOverEasy helps people access. You should check out every episode of Laura Wasser’s podcast, but make sure you don’t miss the one later this fall, when my parents will be the guest speakers. I hope everyone takes the time to read Our Happy Divorce and understands how great life can be, even when marriage ends. Trust me—your kids will thank you for it!
-Asher DeBartolo Heldfond