Sundays with Schoolhouse Moms - Interview 1: Kissy Dugan

For the schoolhouse's first interview, I sat down with one of my favorite people in Rome, Kissy Dugan. We met randomly at the park near San Paolo Basilica two years and some change ago, and many laughs later I'm happy to call her a friend. Keep reading for an entertaining and informative interview...

Name: Kissy Dugan
Occupation: writer, performer, and bridge builder, parenting columnist for the American Magazine in Rome:
Twitter: @KissyDugan

Tell us a bit about yourself: I am freelance mother and full time writer. Reverse that!

How long have you been in Rome? I've been in Rome since Ratzinger was elected Pope in 2005.

What brought you here? My lanky Lazio husband.

Tell us a bit about your family structure...My husband and I have two boys aged 3 and 5. We are a bicultural and bilingual family (I am Irish American and my husband is Italian). We try to take what's best from both sides of the pond and celebrate it. This seems to be giving my children a nice sphere of knowledge and experience...not to mention lots of frequent flyer miles.

How do you handle language in your household? Language for us was tricky. They say that bilingual children soak up both languages like a sponge. And most do. However, my older son was born premature and had some developmental issues. His speech was delayed both in production and comprehension. We worked very diligently both at home and with therapists and now he is communicating like any other five year old! My three year came out of the womb speaking sentences in both languages. So now I have two kids that talk incessantly!

For language... We read read read! I read in English. And my husband reads to them in Italian.

I also use a wall across from our breakfast bar to do morning lessons. I painted it with a great blackboard type paint. We choose letters, then the kids are asked to start thinking of words that begin with that letter and from that list I create a spontaneous story! Kids love the silliness of this while eating their cereal (we roll American style in the AM).

Yes! The blackboard wall was GENIUS! I stole it from you and put one in our house! In fact, I used the pic for this post!

Are you happy with your approach to language? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks to your family's approach?

They say that language acquisition works like a bank. The more currency you put in, the more you have. I really try to shove lots of English in the banks of their brains! Not raising my kids in an English speaking culture does give me the feeling that I am almost solely responsible for their language skills. Luckily, I love words. I like to talk. And I am gifted when it comes to grammar! ;)

I can't say we have drawbacks as such, but I will say that witnessing their developing skills in two languages is a hoot! They mix languages and insert words to get their point across. Like , 'papa io voglio fixare questo gioco.' Daddy I want to fix this toy. Fixare is not an Italian verb. They usually only speak English with me and Italian with their father, but if they do speak English with their father, they both use an Italian accent. They know his brain is trained to pick up things better in his own accent!

What about your own language story? What languages do you speak and what opinions do you have about language learning?

My educational background is in journalism and theatre. I studied French and a bit of kitchen Spanish from my days in NYC. But my skills were non existent! When I met my husband and subsequently moved here in my 30s, I spoke no Italian. Learning was and still is a humbling experience! Having been thrust in to situation where I was unable to express myself was a challenge and often a comedy of errors. I did also teach English to Italians for several years. My own experience really helped me to teach my students with vim and vigor. I wanted to give them the opportunity to empower themselves with another language. I knew what Italians felt like when they went abroad and had difficulties communicating! I was just like them in reverse! I could travel the world with English but had trouble asking for a piece of pizza.

In this day and age, everyone needs English. For kids...the sooner the better the EASIER!

What English Schoolhouse course option have you chosen for your boys and why?

Well, you know I asked you to work one-on-one with my oldest in the fall to help with the language delays he was experiencing. I honestly believe the work he did with you made a huge difference in overcoming a lot of the issues he was having. The books and rhymes and activities were all so helpful, it was what he would have had if we had been living in America. Not to mention you shared a lot of personal teaching materials you had with me, which provided me with tons of great ideas and enabled me to start being his teacher at home as well. Once I got started, I was on a roll. We emphasize a lot of things now that we didn't before, like poetry, which he loves.

I plan on signing my kids up for afternoon sessions in the fall and I look forward to being a subscription member of the on-line language aquisition program...The English Schoolhouse Rocks Your Home!

Now the fun stuff....what's your favorite place to take your kids in Rome?

We are members at Explora. It s great, metro friendly or they have free parking. I only wish they had one on our side of town.
Casa di Jazz and Villa Celimontana
This year I hope to take advantage of the the workshops they have for kids at Appia Antica. I heard there are bug catching events and archeological digs for kids. And now my kids are at the perfect age to start.

What's their favorite place to go?

The gelateria! They also love riding the metro. They are kooky that way.

Top favorite restaurants to eat at in the city?

I like to go to the Citta di Gusto at Gambero Rosso. Agusterella in Testaccio.
When I'm meeting people for a fun evening out, i like Gusto's wine bar for an aperitivo.
I'm also a big fan of Ditirambo in Campo and The Suckling Pig at Costanza (I still dream about that poor but tasty pig).
For non Italian, I love the service and food at Surya Mahal. Best Indian in town!

I personally know you're not bad in the kitchen! Any go-to quick recipes you want to share with the existing or potential schoolhouse mamas?

I try to cook like an Italian mamma. Lots of pasta. But my kids are now tough customers. Nothing green. Ever. So I do boil down veggies in their pasta water so they get extra nutients. I also try to puree and steam cauliflower or zucchini (without the greens) and put them inside meatballs.
Quickest tastiest pasta...

Sautee zucchini with garlic oil.

When pasta is ready add with an egg and some pecorino.

Its like a vegetarian carbonara.

Best kept secret in Rome?

Italians love to keep secrets. I think the best one may yet to be uncovered.

If you have five minutes to yourself, how do you generally spend them?

Writing. Because my work background is in comedy, I also do a stand up show once a month at Rome's Comedy Club. Its an English-speaking show with Italians, Brits, Irish, Americans... it's international and super fun. And a great way for me to use my language skills! ;)

Favorite app? Letterschool

Favorite children's book: Anything by Dr. Seuss because it reminds me of my dad and how he used to read to us when we were kids, but I also love Eric Carle and his simplicity.

What was the last great movie you saw?

The Sessions with Helen Hunt
Beasts of the Southern Wild

Anything else you want to add?

Hmmm. Let me think on this one. Maybe once I've had my coffee.

Shameless plug?

Rome's Comedy Club and my parenting column at the American Mag:

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