Mom Guilt, Elon Musk, and Hope

He Joked About His ASD: “Did You Expect Me to be a Chill, Normal Dude?”

Guest Contributor / 5.14.21

This post comes to us from Kasie Kiesling:

On the eve of Mother’s Day 2021, my husband and I stayed up way too late, surrounded by boxes from our recent move, to watch Elon Musk host Saturday Night Live. My husband is an engineer and lifelong aerospace enthusiast, and therefore a bit of a Musk fanboy. I am vaguely aware of Elon’s Twitter antics and his anti-establishment attitude, and I also dream of owning a car as cool as a Tesla. The internet hype compelled us to tune into a show with waning cultural relevance.

I was in a foul mood. I don’t love Mother’s Day, mostly because I carry a lot of guilt around — guilt that I am not a good enough daughter or a good enough mother. This year has emphasized it, as we just moved from another state to a new home half a mile from my parents’ house for my husband’s career. I underestimated how hard this move (in the midst of a pandemic, no less) would be on my kids and my own emotional wellbeing, as we establish our family life in Wisconsin.

I became a mother in 2014. I almost lost my life and my son’s life to preeclampsia. (Think Lady Sybil, Downton Abbey, but in a modern hospital. It still happens.) Being new parents and not knowing better, we thought our son was okay. At age three, our pediatrician raised some concerns and ordered (so many) tests.This road led us to a diagnosis of brain damage known as periventricular leukomalacia. We have recently added autism spectrum disorder (formerly known as Asperger Syndrome, in my son’s case), anxiety disorder, ADHD, and a genius IQ to his diagnoses.

I have spent the last few weeks in our new home lining up our son’s new therapy team. He does it all — occupational, speech, and physical therapy, as well as applied behavior analysis. Then there are the social workers, special educators, school psychologists … the list of people I’ve had to contact is dizzying. I am grateful for all of the support we are able to find for him.

In spite of my gratitude, the guilt and worry took over. Guilt over moving and having to change all of our caregivers. Guilt over the decisions I made and care we received throughout the pregnancy and his infancy. Worry over what my sweet boy’s future might look like as someone who is so different from his peers. It is damned hard to detail everything that is “wrong” with my kid with two dozen professionals whom I’ve never met before in such a short time frame, and I was stuck in those feelings.

Enter Elon Musk on the SNL stage. It was the first time I had seen him as a person instead of as a tweet or soundbite or article. His eye movements, mannerisms, and speech patterns seemed so familiar. And then, in his monologue he said something I didn’t know about him: he has Asperger Syndrome. His statement was very matter-of-fact. The audience cheered for him. He joked at length about his ASD, asking, “Did you expect me to be a chill, normal dude?” And they laughed! My heart nearly burst at the humor and acceptance.

Elon’s mom also joined the monologue. I looked at that woman and saw someone with whom I identified. She raised a brilliant, quirky, socially awkward son. (He even told the audience on live TV how to correctly spell Maye Musk’s first name … I can relate.) I began to wonder about her. Did she ever feel guilty about her choices around Elon’s upbringing? How did she deal with his behavior challenges? How did she smooth the path for her non-neurotypical son in a world that craves fitting in? Did she feel guilt over the amount of energy and emotion she put into Elon’s care, sometimes to the detriment of her relationships with her other children or spouse?

Then, it hit me: if the Asperger kid that Elon Musk was could find his place in the world and be okay, my Asperger kid will be okay, too. If Elon and his mom can stand before the world and joke around about Dogecoin as a Mother’s Day gift while radiating love for one another, there is hope for me and my boy. Hope that maybe someday we’ll joke about his childhood antics and the awkward gifts he gives me and hope that he will understand how beloved he is to me. God loves me enough to put that hope on my TV screen, just when I needed it, in a most unexpected package.

This isn’t to say that I expect my son to become the next Elon Musk. I expect that his life will be hard. The social challenges of life on the spectrum are real, and I dread what middle school, dating, and job interviews might look like for him. I expect that mothering him and (his neurotypical sister) will involve plenty of moments when I’m not okay, when it all feels overwhelming and I find myself insufficient. I’m certain that I am providing plenty of fodder for discussion with their future psychotherapists.

I also trust that God will provide for me and for him in those moments in unexpected ways, usually through people far less famous than Elon Musk. Luther refers to these people throughout his Small Catechism as “neighbor.” When I’ve felt alone and hopeless in mothering on the spectrum, someone comes through to love and encourage. It has been a teacher who forged a special bond with my son, a friend five states away who listened to me spew my worries over the phone, and a family across the street who spent holidays with us.

I have also found myself in the pews (or on Zoom) on many Sundays in the past seven years, tears glistening my cheeks, praying for God to send me a preacher and ears to hear a word of hope and forgiveness, holding Him to the promises made to me and my family in our baptisms. In spite of my usual homiletic snobbery, Jesus shows up for me there in the liturgy, in the preaching, in His own body and blood. I love taking my son to worship with me, sharing with him the place to lay down our worries and guilt and anxiety, where love and hope and forgiveness find us.

Maybe I’ll tune into the next SpaceX launch with my family just so I can be reminded of hope. Maybe we’ll buy a Tesla someday, too. I can guarantee that we will find a new community of people to love and who will love us in return, and new pews to park ourselves in when life is not okay, because that is how God cares for us.