Inheriting the rat face

I can’t remember who made up the “rat face” in my family, but it was a funny look my mother supposedly gave to us: a kind of smirk, with a dash of goofy and bared teeth.

I think it was my sister who first started mimicking the rat face, but it was me who perfected it. So much so, that some of my cousins still call me Rat.

My children love when I give them the rat face. They even try to do it themselves.

But only my daughter gets close to copying the silly face.

She is a master of facial manipulation.

My 4-year-old once snuck off with my husband’s phone and started snapping photos of herself. The approximately 20 shots start funny and sweet and gradually become hysterical.

From wide-eyed surprise faces to nose scrunching “I smell a stinky” faces, her goofy looks are practically an art form.

We love our daughter’s comic looks – except when it comes time to take a nice photo of the kids. Not that it is ever easy for any parent, but for some reason my children don’t seem to understand that sometimes we just want to capture a picture that doesn’t show their tongues or the inside of their nostrils.

Here’s the typical photo show lineup:

The serious 9-year-old sits ramrod erect with a face of stone.

“Smile!” I say to him.

He lifts the corner of his mouth.

“Come on buddy! Give me a really BIG smile!”

“I AM smiling,” he says through clenched teeth.

The 8-year-old, not to be outshined by his younger sister of many funny faces, bounces around the frame like a monkey. He makes evil faces, jumps up and throws his hands in the air, smiles too big and crosses his eyes.

“Come on. Sit down and give me a nice smile please,” I say to him.

“OK!” he replies.

Just seconds before I snap the photo, he sticks out his tongue.

And then there’s the baby girl. She sits politely and smiles like a prim and proper young lady for the first few pictures, as I’m trying to goad her brothers into behaving for the camera.

But when her 4-year-old patience begins to wear thin, the real show begins.

Sour faces, fish faces, witch faces, goose faces – she can do them all. The photos on my phone are proof.

Usually tired and relatively sure I’m not going to get the picture I want, I give up. I always walk away a little frustrated.

Then, hours later, I go back and look and the photos. They scream my children’s personalities so loudly I can’t help but smile.

Sometimes it turns into a rat face.

• Mommy Talk is a parenting column written by Journal-Times reporter Marci Laehr Tenuta.

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