Dear Moms of Daughters

"You look just like your mother."

"You must be a Vance. You and your mom are identical!"

I've heard similar comments my entire life. Even as a baby I think it was clear which parent I resembled more. Yet, it's always been easier for me to see our differences.

I wear makeup. Her go-to accessories are sunscreen and Chapstick. She loves to garden. I have killed every plant I've ever owned. I'm outspoken. She's thoughtful. She prefers to stay home. I bring her a mug from every new country I visit. She's sentimental and has boxes full of precious mementos and jotted notes, napkins from significant birthdays, and our baby teeth. I routinely purge my storage to the soundtrack of her resistance: "Jess, are you sure you want to give this away? Jess, this is special to me! This is the shirt you wore when we went to lunch that one time five years ago. I'm keeping this. Maybe I'll make a quilt."

I've spent my whole life hearing how much I resemble her. And I've spent my whole life trying to be my own person. I color my hair. I say things just to shock her. I fight fiercely for my independence.

In the mirror of our lives, this is the age she first became a mom. These are the years when it was just me and her getting to know each other without the chaos and energy of three rambunctious boys wrestling around every corner of the house. These are the same months I stubbornly refused to breastfeed once my daddy introduced me to milkshakes. We’re reliving the days before I broke my mom's heart by growing up to be independent.

I don't have a family or a little girl of my own, and so I find myself giving these single years of mine back to my mom. We've taken these stolen weeks and months to get to know each other all over again. I find my deep-seated independence growing into a more rooted contentment.

When strangers and family alike tell me how much I resemble my mom, are they just looking at my face? Our dark eyes and crinkling laugh lines? Our photocopied noses and rounded chins?

I hope they see more.

I hope they mean that I take after her strength, even when the world feels daunting. I hope they see her sense of adventure and her love of home. I hope I have inherited her fierce loyalty to and protection of those important to her. Her generous heart. Her ability to laugh at herself. Her deep devotion and adoration for my dad. The way she studies the Bible, yearning to learn more about Jesus and her place in the world. Her staunchly British mannerisms that slip out every now and then. The way she wants to share something she finds beautiful with everyone around her: "Jess, did you see that flower? Look at the color of those leaves! Jess, stop texting."

Now, when I hear the familiar refrain that has followed us whenever my mom and I are together, I take the time to look past the original reflection of matching eyes and glaring differences. I see the adventurous spirit I've cultivated for myself. In her gaze I see a quiet fortitude that often gets overlooked, a steadfast faith in an uncertain world. I see myself flexing my own inner muscles trying to prove the same strength and surety I admire in her.

Dear moms of daughters,

I can't pretend to know your world, to know the fear and the joy that comes with growing miniature versions of yourself, surviving the terrible twos, and wading through the drama of high school crushes. But I can tell you this: from your protective love we learn to be fierce; from your fears and tears we learn to be vulnerable; from your strength we learn to fight harder. And don't tell your daughters I told you, but our biggest secret is that we all hope to be just like you when we grow up.

To my very own mommy,

I can't pretend to know your side of the mirror. But I know that I love seeing more and more of you staring back from my own reflection. More laugh lines. More gray hairs. And more pieces of you that I never knew before. Thank you for sharing those pieces with me. Thank you for loving me deeper than I will ever fully know. I love you, mama.