Change is hard.
This Is Us Season 5 Episode 12 was all about adjusting to the family you have instead of the one you dreamed of, and it was beautiful.
As a transgender person, I was beyond excited about Beth and Tess' storyline, and it turned out to be only one of several emotional stories.
The amazing thing about the Tess storyline is that it was something almost anyone could relate to -- it wasn't just about having a gay daughter who is dating a non-binary person.
Don't get me wrong. I'd love to get to know Alex better, and I hope they will feature more prominently in future stories.
Beth: I did not tread lightly.
Carol: So I heard.
Beth: Tess says she saw a look on my face when I walked in on her and Alex. A reaction to them being together.
Beth: Mama, what's wrong with me? When Tess first came out to me I was totally fine but now I'm having trouble letting go.
But for now, this was a classic mother/daughter story. This mother and this daughter were struggling to figure out their relationship now that Tess is dating, and Beth's feelings about Tess' sexual orientation were only one part of what was going on between them.
For me, there were two highlights of the hour here.
First, I loved that Beth struck the perfect balance in the end between setting boundaries and being open to listening to Tess' feelings.
Parents often fall too much to one side or the other in this equation, so it was refreshing that Beth got it right.
Beth: Is there anything else you want to say to me?
Tess: I know that you're trying. But you don't have to try with Deja or with Annie, and that makes me sad. Sometimes I wonder if we'll ever be close again.
And the behavior she was modeling was important. Respect needs to go both ways, and she made it clear that it wasn't acceptable for Tess to express her frustration by being disrespectful, yet she was willing to hear the feelings behind it.
I also loved that Tess acknowledged that she wanted to be close to Beth. Fictional teenagers and their parents often follow a silly trope in which the teens want nothing to do with their parents, and the parents are either clueless or mean.
This was much more realistic. Many teens want a relationship with their parents... but on their terms. And part of growing up is figuring out how to navigate the conflict between wanting to be your own person and wanting your parents in your life.
Parents, too, struggle with this, especially if they aren't sure how to relate to an LGBTQ teen. The parents I work with deeply want that close relationship too, and fear their children won't want them in their lives when they are adults.
This brings me to the other part of this story that I loved: Beth's conversations with Carol.
Beth and Carol have already come a long way since Beth invited Carol to live with the family.
Beth seemed to be leaning on her mom a whole lot more during this hour than she ever has before, and some of her hostility toward her is gone.
And Carol seems to have struck a better balance between giving advice and just being there for Beth.
Beth: I dreamed of the boys Tess would like and of walking her down the aisle to marry someone just like her father. And now I have to let that all go.
Carol: It's more than letting go. It's adjusting to what is. When you quit dance, I was hoping you'd go into academics. You weren't at all what I expected. But the woman you grew up to be wasn't any less beautiful. That's part of being a parent. Letting go of what you wanted and adjusting to what is. I just hope you do it faster than I did before you end up living with your daughter and trying to make up for 20 years of not adjusting.
That's what made Carol's advice to Beth about Tess so emotional. She could see clearly the way history was repeating itself and wanted Beth to avoid making the same mistakes she had.
This felt like a huge turning point in their relationship, and I'm not sure which was more moving: Carol's admission that she was trying to make up for wasted time now or Beth putting her head on her mother's shoulder.
It seemed like mother and daughter at long last moved closer to one another, and the whole thing brought tears to my eyes.
The rest of the storylines are also connected to this theme of change and adjustment.
Wedding Planner: Who's handling the rehearsal dinner?
Kevin: That would be my mom and Miguel.
Nicky: Miguel. That would be the guy who's banging my brother's wife, right?
Nicky being part of the family to this degree is a big step for him, and it wasn't surprising that he resented Miguel.
Miguel DID take over Nicky's role in Jack's life, after all, and Nicky probably also felt he was standing up for Jack by accusing Miguel of "swooping in" to steal Rebecca.
Miguel's answer was perfect, as was his explanation to Nicky later that Jack had wished Nicky could be his best man.
Nicky: It just doesn't sit with me. My brother cuts me out of his life and replaces me with you and then you just swoop in and marry his wife.
Miguel: Swooped in? I married Rebecca thirteen years after Jack died. And if you're wondering every day if I spend time thinking about what Jack would have thought about that, the answer is yes. There is only one person I owe an explanation to and that's the one person I can never give one to. I certainly don't owe one to you.
That last part was probably made up -- there was no indication that Jack was thinking about Nicky at all as he prepared to propose to Rebecca -- but either way, it was a kind, compassionate thing for Miguel to say.
Meanwhile, Madison and Toby both struggled with telling their spouses what they really wanted, and only one of them succeeded in overcoming that challenge.
Madison's explanation of why she wanted a different venue for the wedding was beautiful. I thought maybe her dad leaving soon after her mom insisted he take them with him on one of his travels contributed to her fear of telling Kevin what she really wanted.
But Kevin's enthusiastic support of her dream wedding venue hopefully helped her feel more comfortable.
I'm worried about what the future holds for Toby and Kate, though. Even if Toby doesn't go back to work for a while, it's not going to be good for their marriage for his hatred of being the stay-at-home parent to fester.
The more this goes on, the more it's going to cause cracks in their foundation again. Didn't Toby learn anything from how silence nearly destroyed their relationship on This Is Us Season 4?
One person who isn't letting things fester is Kevin. I'm glad he finally found the courage to call Randall and set up a time to talk about their childhoods.
This will be a difficult and painful conversation, but an important one so that Kevin and Randall can begin to heal their fractured relationship.
I'm also curious how this will tie in with Randall's exploration of his feelings about being adopted.
At the group, Randall heard a woman talking about how her adoptive family hates her because she wishes her birth mom could have raised her. But now Kevin wants the opposite of that.
I hope Randall will talk about this either in the group or with his therapist, not just Beth.
If there was one imperfect thing, it was that silly stuck ring story.
It ended up being for a good cause -- Rebecca's father helping get the ring off demonstrated that he understood he couldn't treat Jack like a second-class citizen anymore.
But wedding rings getting stuck on the wrong person's finger is such an overused trope, and I had hoped This Is Us wouldn't go there.
Your turn, This is Us fanatics! What did you think of This Is Us Season 5 Episode 12?
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This Is Us continues to air on NBC on Tuesdays at 9 PM EST/PST.