Sundays with Schoolhouse Moms Interview 5: Mona S.

I met Mona early last spring at what I now refer to as my lucky park.  It's lucky in the sense that it's brought me nothing but good fortune and good times--I've met some of my favorite people from Rome at that very spot...and did I mention it's a two minute walk from my house?  One of those favorites is Mona, a charming, wise, and dedicated mom whom I hit it off with almost immediately. "We're going to be friends!" I blurted out not even five minutes into our first conversation with her kid on the slide and mine nearby on the castle.  She smiled and agreed, and now a year later I am very pleased to be able to call her a true friend.  Enjoy the interview!


Mona S.


A full-time mom and a partner in a media production company based in Australia. And when I will have more time, hopefully, a writer and illustrator of children’s books.

How long have you been in Rome and what brought you here?

For longer than I can remember! We moved here for my dad’s work.

Where are you from and how many languages do you speak?

I am a bit of a mongrel. I am an Australian of Middle Eastern descent, with Anglo Saxon schooling and the best of Italian culture running in my heart. I speak English, Italian, French and Arabic.

I'd love to know the names of all the cities where you've lived.

Apart from Rome, I have lived in Cairo, Sydney and around the US.

Which is your favorite city and why?

I love Rome. It’s my emotional axis point.

Tell me about your family background and structure:

A three and a half year old daughter with a boy on the way.

How do you all approach language in your home?

Before our daughter was born, we assigned ourselves a language each. I speak to her exclusively in Arabic, and my husband speaks to her exclusively in English. She picked up Italian by osmosis. My husband and I mix languages between us, but my daughter will always reply to me in Arabic and her dad in English. In the rare occasions where she speaks to me either in English or Italian, I simply ignore her until she switches back to Arabic. I read to her in Arabic, even though the books are mainly in English. I translate along the way and she would never want it any other way!

Which language is your child more dominant in and why?

I would say Arabic followed closely by English since she and I spend a lot of quality time together, and she also spends a lot of time with her dad. That being said, when I listen to her playing on her own, it’s almost exclusively in Italian. I think that deep under, Italian is her favorite language. They often say the language of the “place” reigns supreme.

How do you think languages are best learned? How did you learn the languages you speak?

A friend of mine is a linguist and he told me the golden rule to raising multilingual kids is for each parent to stick to one language with their child and one language only, and never mix. And never allow your child to respond to you in a language different to the one you share with them. Why? Because it is very likely that if you don’t, your child will never be one hundred percent proficient in any language. I have seen that happening to many expatriate kids. I was lucky to learn the languages I know today thanks to my parents’ diligence in maintaining an exclusively Arabic-speaking environment at home, knowing that I was getting English at school. I picked up Italian simply by being in Rome: cartoons, Italian-dubbed films, and every day interactions were enough.

Which English Schoolhouse course option will you be choosing for the fall and why?

When we are in Rome, I will probably keep her in her Italian pre-school until after lunch time and then have her spend the afternoons at the English Schoolhouse – this way she will get the best of both worlds, and I don’t have to worry about lunch!

Now the fun stuff...

I feel like you successfully exist in three separate cultures daily: Arab, American, and Italian. You are multiculturalism personified! What are the benefits and drawbacks, if any, to juggling so many languages and cultures in your home?

I used to stumble at the simple question of “where are you from”. It sounds like an overly recycled cliché, but I now just say “I am a global citizen – a bit from everywhere”, and it’s the most accurate and honest description. The benefits of multiculturalism are implicit – the wealth of knowledge and appreciation of so many cultures enriches you and makes you a more tolerant and accepting person. The only disadvantage I can think of is that sometimes it’s more practical to have one cultural identity. I remember when Italy played against Australia in the 2006 soccer World Cup, I was genuinely torn between who to support! But regardless, in today’s world where cultural boundaries are exceedingly blurred, unless you are living in an isolated village in the middle of nowhere with no access to information, the idea of a monolithic cultural identity is no longer the most dominant narrative. Film and television industries, and more recently the Internet have been the great equalizers in that respect. I was fortunate to marry someone who has a very similar background to mine, and we see eye-to-eye about how we want to raise our children: we want them to be polyglots, worldly, tolerant, curious, and respectful of other people’s differences.

What are your top 3 favorite restaurants in the city?

1. Chez Mon Mari and Chez Ma Mere – My husband’s and mother’s kitchens respectively!

2. Il Moro near Fontana di Trevi for authentic, delicious Roman food.

3. Pascucci al Porticciolo in Fiumicino for great sea food.

I've long admired your ability to maintain a social life while actively parenting. Do you have any tips on fun adult things to do while the kids are in tow?

Thanks! Having a social life is essential. I never understood couples who become hermits once they have kids. It almost becomes like a prison sentence. I am not saying you should party like you were still in your teens, but there should be a middle ground. There are many fun things to do with kids, along with friends with kids, such as lunches in family-friendly restaurants. Dinners with kids is a pretty lousy proposition, avoid at all costs! Gatherings at a friend’s house, day-trips or weekends out of Rome, picnics, museums, theatres, and more. All these events are much more enjoyable when you have friends to share it with, especially those who have children of similar ages to yours. These kids will grow up together, even if they don’t end up going to the same schools. Otherwise, I agree it’s important to have child-free date nights with your partner if you can arrange for a baby sitter. It’s also important to catch up with your friends and have some grown-up time, especially with your other friends who may not have children or who are empty-nesters.

What's your favorite place to take your kid?

Any where I know she will enjoy herself. If she is happy, we are all happy.

What's her favorite place to go?

The beach. We are so lucky to have a Lungomare so close to Rome. She loves the sand, and I love that she loves it because it wears her down quickly which makes bed time a breeze. She loves bouncing castles, and any park or playground, as long as it’s clean, safe and has flowers, grass and trees.
Any good recommendations for a date night out?

A nice meal in a non-Italian restaurant for a change, such as Indian or Thai followed by a good film at the cinema, a stroll in the historic center Rome, concluded with a gelato. Also, knowing that your kid is fast asleep before you return home is the cherry on top.

You've lived in a ton of different places and could work from anywhere, why is Rome one of your main stops?

I spend a good portion of the year in Rome, but not exclusively. Rome has its advantages and disadvantages. I am all too aware of its disadvantages! But in the end, the advantages win. My parents and my sister live here, so that is the big reason why we spend so much time there. My sister has kids as well, and her son is almost exactly the same age as my daughter, so that’s a huge bonus!

What’s Rome's best kept secret?

The best secret is that you are pulled into it without really knowing why.

If you have a little bit of time to yourself, how do you normally spend it?

I am getting back into drawing and writing down a few ideas for some stories I have always wanted to write for children.

What's your favorite app?

I am not quite an App “collector” but Scramble with Friends and the TED app are my favorite.

What website do you waste the most time on?

I am a news junkie. I check about five news portals every day. I also like to read in-depth analysis, and keep up with the health and well-being sections, especially that relating to children.

Favorite children's book?
The Tiger Who Came for Tea – Judith Kerr
The Giving Tree – Shell Silverstein
Curious George

What was the last book you read and how would you rate it?

My husband’s first novel. One fine novel that I couldn’t put down and finished it in two days. You will know what I mean when you read it once it is published in May 2013. A bestseller in the making!

Anything else you want to add? Shameless plug?

Shameless plug: I think I already wrote that in the answer above!

No comments:

Post a Comment