I was chitter chattering with my kids before school and reacted to something my son Wally said. Vivvi, my nine year old, proceeded to roast me in the most elegant fashion. The girl doesn’t need wit or poetry to take me down to a humble leveljust the tools in her toolbox she has been perfecting since birth: expression and imitation.

Photo by Jennifer Heim Photography

At first when she started being able to eviscerate me in this way, and do it regularly, I took offense. I, as someone who spent a fair share of my childhood picking on my mom, realized we had reached a level we’d probably stay in for the next decade or so. She saw my particular penchant for over-exaggerated facial expression at all times and went for the jugular. It kind of hurt that she got me in something so personal and out of my control.

But then I watched her, and she did it so well. Her face was exactly what I imagined mine to be as I thought back on the previous moment. And something about the way she added comedy to the edges of the expression was so elevated, talent-wise, and beyond her years, humor wise, that I started to crack up too. And we now both have a lot more fun when she makes fun of me.

“Oh Vivvi,” I say, as she gasps and raises her eyebrows and contorts her face in the most jamoke-y fashion. “You are setting me straight. I will be so cool by the time you finish high school.”

My husband and I laugh that when she makes it to Saturday Night Live, I will be her best character. And, you had better believe me, I will be sitting in the front row, cheering her on as her best fan also.

She would say, though, that I will not be allowed to come, because she finds my fangirling extremely distracting. We’ve been practicing for an audition the past few weeks, and when she reads lines or sings songs, she does amazing. Unless she takes a moment to watch me watching her, and then she stops, huffs, and says, “Mom, you’re doing it again.” She proceeds to expression roast me, because I’ve been making the faces she has been making, but in my embarrassing mom-exaggerated way.

Photo by Jennifer Heim Photography

The kicker is, I don’t even know I’m doing it! I used to act as a kid also. I should not be doing this. I should be better than this. But there I am, scrunching up my face when she’s sad, or raising my eyebrows when she’s hopeful, or snarling when she hisses.

She says I mouth her lines too. I think back and can’t remember moving my mouth—moving my face at all, really. But my little personal Kristin Wigg is standing in front of me, showing me exactly how dumb my dumb face just looked. And I believe her, because she is good, and…you know? It does look like me when she does it.

One of the plays she’s trying out for is Gypsy. We watched the show, which I had never seen before. It is about a stage mom, Rose, who puts her daughters into a life-long vaudeville act to make them famous. But things go south when one of them starts to make it without her help. Then the mom’s demented, self-serving inner demon starts to reveal itself throughout the second act. She doesn’t want her daughter to be famous—she is remembering her own shot that she missed and trying to jump in their little lives and use them as her own redo.

Why am I mouthing Vivvi’s lines? Like Rose, do I want my fame—fame I missed out on—to reveal itself in her?

A few weeks ago Vivvi and I found recordings of my children’s theater plays. In one video, I am wandering across the stage as a stepsister, speaking in a French accent (??)—a strange choice my fellow stepsister made that I went along with, asking no questions and giving no consideration to the fact that I cannot DO a French accent. My long, gangly arms hang by my side, and my dumb half-permed hair (I got a perm and never went back to get a re-perm) is hanging from my dumb head, inventing the vertical mullet—business on top and party on the bottom. And I’m speaking French. You know? When you start all your words with Zs and Vs—“Zen ve should go get ze vater and zrow it in zer zface.” French. Yes, definitely French.

I watch and I am in agony. I zought I was good back zen. I guess I vas zrong. Vivvi watches and turns to me. In this moment, Vivvi could slice my old middle school self open from gut to half perm. Instead, she says, “You were…good!” She says it in the same way she sometimes tells dad Wally his hair is becoming…nice gray. Or her brother Wally his singing voice is…better than some people’s—a gift she is offering while her smirk tells you the hand that is behind her back holds a sharp dagger poised and ready to gut if she sensed it wouldn’t kill you.

Photo by Jennifer Heim Photography

In that moment I am relieved to realize that I am not Rose. I am not going to be on the stage, singing with crazy eyes and my name in lights behind me. I never had the talent she has. And like I said at the beginning, she really has had it since birth.

Back then, I should have known. This baby is not acting in general, doing her best impersonation of just anyone laughing. She is laughing—like me. This girl served up her first roast, before she even turned one.

This is why I will let her keep laughing at me forever: When she makes fun of me, she humbles me. But she also sees me for who I am, thinks it’s dumb, and loves me anyway.

So I guess, in a way, I do want to see my dumb face on stage. But not in the same way as crazy, demented, self-serving Rose. I want to see Vivvi, as me. Because let me tell you, that is the best, funniest version of me there is.

Photos by Jennifer Heim Photography

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