Category Archives: Head Of The Class Mom

Head of the Class Mom: Pam Wolf of New York Kids Club

IMG_0097Meet this week’s Head of the Class Mom, Pam Wolf—founder of NY Kids Club and a mom to four amazing kids!

Tell us about yourself. Why did you start New York Kids Club?
When I left work in 1991 to have my first daughter, Jessica, I told my recruitment firm partner I’d be back in two weeks. As soon as I met Jessica, I was in love. I had my second child, Jared, 15 months later (and two more children after that!). I never got around to going back to work—at least not for anyone else.

While I enjoy being a parent, my entrepreneurial passion was alive and well and I found myself looking for a new outlet for expression that would allow me to keep my children close by.

One day in between music class with my daughter on one side of town and art class on the other, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if these classes (along with many others) could be housed under the same roof?” Leading with a laser focus on providing the most unique experience for children coupled with the high-level customer service, hospitality, and fastidious cleanliness you’d expect from upscale hotels; the NY Kids Club was born.

What is your secret to balancing work and family? Is there a balance?
There is no secret to work-life balance. Every minute you spend missing a soccer game for an important meeting, or missing an important meeting for that soccer game, you will be worried that you are letting someone down. Focus on achieving work-life flow, rather than balance. You’ll be much happier (and much more effective).

Share a funny story that helped you become a better parent and/or better at your job.
I learned a long time ago that you have to find humor in even the most challenging of circumstances. When I get the call that a pipe has burst in the dead of winter, flooding a location in the middle of the night, I’ve trained myself to first think, “Alright, should we add indoor ice skating?”

What has been your biggest challenge and/or greatest reward in the struggle for work-life balance?
The biggest challenge is remembering that health, happiness, and charity must begin at home. It is easy to put everyone and everything first—side-lining your own personal well-being along the way. You have to take care of yourself before you can be good for anyone else. That’s not selfish—it’s smart.

The greatest reward has been seeing my business evolve and grow over the past 15 years. It has been an incredible journey. Sometimes I’ll walk into our relatively-new midtown headquarters and think “Wow, look at this place! Look at all these people!” Then I remember I’m supposed to be in charge and I make sure there are flowers in the lobby and mints on the snack bar. Attending to the details is as important now as ever.

What is one thing you wish you knew before you had kids?
They are like potato chips. Every time you have one, you want another.

If you could give other moms one piece of advice what would it be?
Resist the incredible urge to compare yourself (or your children) to anyone else. Dare to be different and teach your children that “different” is cool.

QUICK Q’s:

What is your favorite children’s book?
The Country Bunny
by DuBose Heyward.

What has been your favorite kids’ class?
Musical Tots at NY Kids Club of course.

What is your favorite thing to do with your family on weekends?
Anything that involves food!

What is your favorite rainy day escape?
The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Curious about New York Kids Club? Check out all of the program’s birthdays here!

About Pam Wolfe and New York Kids Club:
Founded by Pamela Wolf in September of 2001, the New York Kids Club has grown to become the premiere enrichment center for children two months to 12 years. Ms. Wolf has been recognized as a Stevie award winner in the category of Business Mentor of the Year, a Stevie Award finalist in the category of Best Entrepreneur, and one of the top female entrepreneurs of the year by Entrepreneur magazine. She has paired her extensive business background with her experience as a mother of four to build a strong foundation for the organization that has grown to include 11 locations in New York and 12 in China. The company received INC 500/5000 list recognition in 2014. Of the several successful businesses Ms. Wolf has owned in New York, she is most proud of the New York Kids Club.

Head of the Class Mom: Peng Zeng of Playlingual

IMG_4206Meet this week’s Head of the Class Mom, Peng Zeng—founder of Playlingual and a mom to an amazing daughter!


Tell us about yourself. Why did you open Playlingual?
I’m native Chinese and grew up in Beijing, China, and am now settled in New York City with my husband and 28-month-old daughter. I have been a teacher, consultant, and voice actor of Mandarin Chinese for children in the States for over 10 years. In 2008, I encountered the Reggio Emilia and Montessori approaches to early childhood education, both of which value children’s innate ability to learn and create, as well as their interaction with adults and the environment. I was fascinated by the extraordinary growth and development that children experienced under Reggio Emilia and Montessori education. The birth of my daughter, Efemena, furthered my research interest in the two approaches. I have since actively participated in various workshops, courses, and conferences on Reggio Emilia and Montessori education.

The creation of Playlingual is my attempt to integrate Reggio Emilia and Montessori approaches into foreign language education for young children. I believe children can grow their interests and develop their language skills through hands-on and interactive activities in a nurturing environment, and with adults who not only speak the target language but also understand children’s individual learning needs.

What is your secret to balancing work and family? Is there a balance?
I’m still searching for the secret! Being a mom and an entrepreneur at the same time is hard. I’m lucky to have support and assistance from my family and friends. I had a hard time at the beginning of Playlingual to balance work, family, and myself. However, after consulting other mom entrepreneurs and embracing my inabilities, I have made some improvement in terms of juggling all the balls as a mom entrepreneur. And I’m still working on creating more me time.

Share a funny story that helped you become a better parent and/or better at your job.
I like to develop Playlingual methodology and curriculum with my daughter during our playtime together. Therefore, our playtime is always a bit “messy”. One time, I made cloud dough with flour and cooking oil in a large under-bed bin. I also threw some sand toys in to see how my daughter would react. She was only 12 months old at the time and was immediately drawn to the setup. I was so focused on observing her reaction and feeding her Mandarin Chinese during play that I did not anticipate that she would pour all of the flour onto her body and my head! In the end, we were all covered in the white oily flour laughing. I never forget how important it is to be childish and silly in the moment with your child and students.

What has been your biggest challenge and/or greatest reward in the struggle for work-life balance?
My biggest challenge in the struggle for work-life balance has been remembering myself. I can easily get caught up in the roles of being a mother, wife, entrepreneur, and teacher and forget about myself. My greatest reward has been witnessing children having a great time playing in Mandarin Chinese.

What is one thing you wish you knew before you had kids?
You become dumber after you give birth, as naturally you will lose 5% of your brain just to be a mom!

If you could give other moms one piece of advice what would it be?
Take good care of yourself. Don’t be too harsh on yourself. You are doing great!

QUICK Q’s:

What is your favorite children’s book?
Bam and Kero
series by Yuka Shimada; Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems.

What has been your favorite kids’ class?
Music Together.

What is your favorite thing to do with your family on weekends?
Go to the children’s museum and playground.

What is your favorite rainy day escape?
Sleeping in!

Curious about Playlingual? Check out all of the program’s fall classes here!

Head of The Class Mom: Judy Yee

Meet this week’s Head of the Class Mom, Judy Yee—co-owner of City Tots and a mom to an amazing son!

Tell us about yourself. Why did you open City Tots?
I spent over 15 years in management consulting and for me personally, I always knew that the world I was in wasn’t conducive to raising a child the way I envisioned. So, the goal for me was always entrepreneurship. So City Tots was created for a multitude of reasons. First, I was passionate about building a business that really took learning through play to a whole new level—providing an environment that fosters a child’s natural sense of discovery, exploration, and curiosity while also incorporating educational/developmental components. Second, City Tots was an incredible way to have a personal stake in my son’s education and development while simultaneously filling an unmet need for NYC families to have an all-inclusive place for their kids to enjoy.

What is your secret to balancing work and family? Is there a balance?
There is an inherent unpredictability that comes with starting a new business and raising a toddler, so finding a healthy balance is a challenge I face everyday. In reality, it ends up being about prioritization and time management. My son always comes first, but in general I try to focus on work when I’m at Tots and my son when I’m home. I always make sure we have some pure undivided time together each day.

Share a funny story that helped you become a better parent and/or better at your job.
I could never select just one! My son is the funniest kid and he makes me laugh every day. He is the greatest blessing and motivator I could ever ask for.

What has been your biggest challenge and/or greatest reward in the struggle for work-life balance?
The biggest challenge has been spending so much more time away from my son. The greatest reward is watching members enjoying the facility, camp sessions, and all of our other offerings.

What is one thing you wish you knew before you had kids?
I come from a large family and spent a great deal of time with my nieces and nephews. So while I felt like I had a good idea of what parenting would be like, nothing could have prepared me for what a life altering and truly amazing experience parenthood has proven to be.

If you could give other moms one piece of advice what would it be?
Enjoy every moment and try to capture as many moments as possible because one day they will serve as a great reminder. I created a separate email for my son that I regularly send messages to in an attempt to document his development and all those special, cute and precious moments that are likely to have been otherwise forgotten.

QUICK Q’s:

What is your favorite children’s book?
Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
by Dr. Seuss.

What has been your favorite kids’ class?
My son loves anything to do with music.

What is your favorite thing to do with your family on weekends?
Sleeping in, brunch, and then a trip to the playground or park.

What is your favorite rainy day escape?
Staying indoors and letting my son decide the day’s activities (Legos, reading books, puzzles, listening to music, dancing, etc.)

Curious about City Tots? Check out all of the program’s summer classes, here!

Head of the Class Mom: Rachel Jarrett

Meet this week’s Head of the Class Mom, Rachel Jarrett—owner of Chocolate Works Upper East Side and a mom of two!

Tell us about yourself. Why did you open Chocolate Works?
You could say it was part of a “mid-life crisis,” although I would prefer to call it a “mid-life awakening.” In 2013, I turned 40, had a baby (my second), and decided life was too short not to pursue my dreams. So I quit my job as a corporate retail executive and took the risk of becoming an entrepreneur. For a long time, I had wanted to run my own business and the opportunity of opening a Chocolate Works, a fledgling franchise, on the Upper East Side, came to me from a small business broker. I immediately fell in love with the concept and the idea of making people smile every day.

What is your secret to balancing work and family? Is there a balance?
You should never open a small business believing that you will have more balance or free time than you did in corporate life. The workload is in intense and 24-7. But it does give you a fair degree of flexibility, which is very nice when you have a family. I think the trick to “balance” is being sure that your life is not only about your kids. Happy parents = happy kids. The other thing I try to do is remember that the most important thing you can do for your kids is love them and support them emotionally. This year, I forgot to apply to preschool for my son because I was so busy at the store. At first, I felt so bad and guilty. But now it is something that I laugh about and shrug off.

Share a funny story that helped you become a better parent and/or better at your job.
I didn’t have my son Spencer until my daughter Eden was already four years old. So, she was pretty used to being the center of attention. One day she said to me, “Mommy, I don’t like having a brother. Let’s bring him back to the hospital.” I looked at her—dead serious—and said “You know, you are right. Let’s take him back right now. Go pack up his stuff and I will call for a car.” Her jaw dropped to the floor. Then we both started laughing. Since then, she has never asked to return him!

What has been your biggest challenge and/or greatest reward in the struggle for work-life balance?
My biggest challenge, as a perfectionist, is having to accept that it is IMPOSSIBLE to do everything perfectly. So I have stopped trying. But sometimes I beat myself up and then I try to remember that “good enough” is okay.

What is one thing you wish you knew before you had kids?
I wish I knew how hard it would be to keep your figure after kids!

If you could give other moms one piece of advice what would it be?
Read the Ferber book cover to cover. Don’t trust what others say about it until you have read it for yourself. This book has saved me on multiple occasions.

QUICK Q’s:

What is your favorite children’s book?
Eloise
.

What has been your favorite kids’ class?
My son loves his music class at Hands On. I think they do a really great job of entertaining and educating kids.

What is your favorite thing to do with your family on weekends?
Visiting the duck pond in Central Park or having bagels and lox at Barney Greengrass.

What is your favorite rainy day escape?
Renting a family movie and staying in bed!

Head of the Class Moms: Raising Astoria’s Kim Montini & Laurie Nicholson

Meet this week’s Head of the Class Moms, Kim Montini and Laurie Nicholson—founders of Raising Astoria and proud moms of two!

Tell us about yourselves. Why did you start Raising Astoria?
Kim MontiniKim: Laurie and I met when we were both pregnant, so our daughters are the same age. I come from a business background and was a stay-at-home mom at the time. As new moms, we often talked about how it’s not easy to find baby items here in Astoria, that we would have to trek into the city. Laurie casually mentioned to me that someone should open up a consignment store. That sparked an idea, more conversations, then a business plan. We opened the doors eight months after that initial conversation. We sold used clothes and baby gear while having classes in the back. Since then we’ve transitioned to just offering classes and a play space.

IMG_0728Laurie: Like many new parents, I was inspired by my child.  I wanted to provide her with fun
and engaging opportunities, both educationally and socially.  This prompted me to become very involved in the local community of parents.   I started organizing peer support groups, music playdates, picnics, etc., just so I’d have something to do with my kid.  The business idea grew very organically; I saw that families craved affordable activities for their children, as well as affordable clothing and toys. I mentioned the idea to another mom I’d met while expecting in a totally offhand way, not expecting anything to ever come of it.  She was incredibly driven and took the initiative to bring the idea to fruition with me!

What is your secret to balancing work and family? Is there a balance?
Kim: This has been the most difficult challenge for us as we have our kids with us at work everyday and we also each had another baby. Luckily, we have a business related to children, so they can take classes at the store and there are toys for them to play with. But, it’s difficult to manage a business well and be a mom at the same time.

Laurie: The balance for me always tips in favor of my family.  I love what we do at Raising Astoria, and I believe in it wholeheartedly. We work hard to build community, provide education and support, and engage local families. I am driven most deeply by my own need for this sense of community—for myself and for my children. So the heart of our business is families (including mine), and that’s what will always matter most to me.

Share a funny story that helped you become a better parent and/or better at your job.
Kim: My daughter used to lick the floor when she had a tantrum and I had to pretend it wasn’t happening or she would get the reaction she was seeking from me, and a customer would be standing right there. I guess that is why she is never gets sick. Her immune system is very strong!

Laurie: We were watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, and my younger daughter was mesmerized by Nick Jonas. After that, we started listening to Nick Jonas a lot, and slowly we moved on to all different genres of music, and stopped listening to “kids’ music.”  I’ve been a million times happier since we broadened our musical horizons, and music has become integral to our days and to my sanity.  So I guess I have Nick Jonas to thank for that.

What has been your biggest challenge and/or greatest reward in the struggle for work-life balance?
Kim: It’s really difficult to give great customer service when your kids are demanding your attention at the same time. The flip side is that I do get to be with my kids and they get exposure to awesome classes.

Laurie: My biggest challenge is finding the emotional energy to stay present for my kids, our customers, and my self. For the first two years we were in business, I wanted to know every person’s name who walked in our door.  It’s so important to me to maintain personal connections with our community. But this was impossible! I still have that desire to be engaged and connected, to know what’s going on with our families. But I also have to work hard not to use too much emotional energy in my work life, then end up having nothing left to give to my kids at the end of the day. To that end, I’ve unplugged quite a bit from social media as I found it was really difficult for me to stay in the moment on a daily basis, while also trying to maintain a public image.

What is one thing you wish you knew before you had kids?
Kim: I wish I had saved up more money. Having kids in NYC is expensive!

Laurie: Nothing. I don’t think you can know or understand parenthood until you’re in it.  There’s no experience in life that compares to it and I just think we really have to learn as we go. It’s the ultimate process-learning experience.

If you could give other moms one piece of advice what would it be?
Kim: To make friends with other moms while you’re pregnant. Reach out to parent groups. We have a great one called Moms and Dads of Astoria Meetup and it’s only $15/year to join. I’m so thankful for my mom friends. Our kids are all the same age and have been friends since birth and we’ve all had second children since then as well. It also helped with supporting each other during difficult times!

Laurie: Listen to all the parenting advice you can stomach; then take what you want and leave the rest behind.

QUICK Q’s:

What is your favorite children’s book?
Kim: Princess and the Peas by Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton.

Laurie: TOUGH question. I love children’s literature. My current favorite might be The Legend of the Lady Slipper, which is about a young girl who saves her whole village by venturing out into the wintry night to get the medicine they need.

What has been your favorite kids’ class?
Kim: Funikijam Music and Funikijam Sport at Raising Astoria

Laurie: My favorite kids’ classes have been outdoor/nature classes.  I really enjoy being outdoors with my kids, and I love the spontaneous, interdisciplinary learning that occurs when you have a vast array of interesting objects (sticks, rocks, bugs, leaves, etc.) in front of you.

What is your favorite thing to do with your family on weekends?
Kim: A picnic in Astoria Park.

Laurie: Visiting new playgrounds and/or going to the movies. It’s a toss-up!

What is your favorite rainy day escape?
Kim: The movies! During the week it’s empty and my kids can run around as well.

Laurie: Probably the library!

Head of the Class Mom: Shannon O’Reilly-Fearn

Meet this week’s Head of the Class Mom, Shannon O’Reilly-Fearn—founder of Twin Love Concierge and a mom to twin girls!

Tell us about yourself. Why did you start Twin Love Concierge?
I am a stay at home mom to identical 24-month-old twin girls, and alongside this I run a maternity consulting company exclusively for twins. When pregnant with the girls I was put on early bed rest and I realized quickly that there was no personalized support out there for expecting moms of multiples. My company was created while my feet were up on a pillow, trying to cook the girls as long as possible. I was lucky that I made it to 35.5 weeks and most of Twin Love Concierge was planned and ready to be activated by then. My primary mission is to help other twin moms and dads so that they know that help is out there—and not to stress! Our workshops and playgroups bring parents of multiples together, and it’s a constant pinch-myself-moment that I have been blessed to be able to facilitate this.

What is your secret to balancing work and family? Is there a balance?
Gosh is there a secret? Keeping the balance is almost impossible I find, at least with toddlers. I’m a super organized person, so I keep lists for everything and I work during any hour I have free, seven days a week. I am very quick to respond on email and I make sure that my husband and I sit and have a proper meal each night and talk. Relationships are so important and without them everything falls apart—no matter how successful your business is.

Share a funny story that helped you become a better parent and/or better at your job.
As I am Australian, sometimes during my workshops I say things and parents look at me strangely. Once I was referring to the Bjorn bouncers (which are a must-have for twin parents) and I said to the group “once you are finished with them they sell like hotcakes”. What I meant was that you will be able to resell them easily as many parents will buy them secondhand. However, I had at least three emails afterwards from moms telling me why they couldn’t find the site hotcakes.com! I don’t use that term anymore—I don’t want to confuse anyone, ha!

What has been your biggest challenge and/or greatest reward in the struggle for work-life balance?
Above anything the most rewarding part of my business is working with moms on bed rest. More than 50% of expecting moms of twins will be placed on some form of bed rest as early as 16 weeks so my role is to come and sit bedside with these moms, discuss what areas they are feeling overwhelmed with, and address these concerns where I can. These clients are my success stories, and they are my world until I hear they have delivered and are safely home with their babies. Until then we stay in constant contact!

What is one thing you wish you knew before you had kids?
That you can function on limited sleep. That babies grow so fast and to cherish the first few months because one day you will stop and look at them and try to remember those days when they were just so tiny. A full nights sleep is only a blink away!

If you could give other moms one piece of advice what would it be?
Reach out to support groups and don’t struggle alone. You don’t have to be the expert at everything, there are people who specialize in all of the areas you are struggling in. If only I had taken my own advice!

QUICK Q’s:

What is your favorite children’s book?
You Are My I Love You 
by Maryann Cusimano Love.

What has been your favorite kids’ class?
Anything outdoors. Madison Square Park has the most amazing outdoor music classes during the warmer months. We are about to start ballet, so I have a feeling that is going to become a favorite.

What is your favorite thing to do with your family on weekends?
Beach, beach, beach. I am Australian, so need I say more!

What is your favorite rainy day escape?
This may sound terrible but shopping with my twin girls. They love clothes and shoes, so we will bundle up and go to all of the gorgeous kids stores nearby.

Shannon O’Reilly-Fearn is the founder of Twin Love Concierge, a company she created to provide personalized support for parents of multiples. She is also a mom to identical twin girls.

Head of the Class Mom: Ginny Nussbaum

Meet this week’s Head of the Class Mom, Ginny Nussbaum—co-founder of Island Swimming and a mom to two amazing kids!

Tell us about yourself. Why did you start Island Swimming?
Growing up as a competitive swimmer, I became involved in teaching swimming all throughout high school. I loved the experience! It married my two passions: swimming and teaching. I continued to swim competitively in college, where I majored in elementary education. Upon graduation I become the aquatic director at Adelphi University and began using my swim experience to enhance my education background. Among my other responsibilities, I was charged with developing the learn-to-swim program at Adelphi. I was in my element teaching children the technique of correct swimming while teaching them to love the sport. When I later took a position coaching and directing national and international competitive events with Nassau County, I missed the hands on training and development of young swimmers where I had first started out.

With experience developing some of the finest swimmers in the world and a vision for how to bring quality swim instruction to the future generations of swimmers, I co-founded our LIAC Learn-To-Swim program with my coaching partner. Our vision, “to teach from beginner to Olympian,” is what we have been working on together for the last 25 years.

What is your secret to balancing work and family? Is there a balance?
Balancing work and family is challenging, but hiring great people has been essential in providing me with the flexibility I need to spend with my children while still meeting my work responsibilities. To be sure, balance is very difficult. From the beginning I have always made bringing up my two children my number one priority, which means that I will be with my children during their special days, even if I’m missing work. I’ve had the opportunity to travel on many occasions with my daughter who competed as a world class dancer. My son stayed a little closer to home with his after school activities and I have been able to be at all his events. Being able to set your own priorities is a huge benefit of owning your own business.

However, the demands of my business have restructured some of the traditional ideals of family time. For example, because my workday is predominantly during the after school and evening time slot, we have made breakfast the family meal in our house. A big home cooked breakfast together, sitting around the table, is the way we start each day. It has been a conscious decision to carve out time to support my children.

Share a funny story that helped you become a better parent and/or better at your job.
Doing my job has helped me become a better parent, and being a parent has made me better at my job. I cannot recall an isolated incident that has helped me accomplish either because, to me, it has all been about the process. But fun and laughter is definitively a key element in the process. With our swim team, we wear festive costumes, sing silly cheers, and dance on the pool deck. You can be sure that I am the leader of this wild pack.

What has been your biggest challenge and/or greatest reward in the struggle for work-life balance?
The greatest reward in my struggle for work-life balance is having two independent children who both have great moral compasses and diligent work ethics. However, the biggest challenge in the struggle for work-life balance is time. Time flies when you are building a business, raising children, and making a home. Before you know it, your children are both away at college. But when I am missing them terribly, I am so grateful for all of the time I spent struggling for a work-life balance. It is a worthy challenge.

If you could give other moms one piece of advice what would it be?
My advice to other moms would be to do what you love. I was fortunate that my skill set allowed me to use my schooling to complement my experience and passion for swimming. Instead of pursuing a traditional school teaching career, I was able to create my own platform to combine my two loves: teaching and swimming. It was my love for swimming and teaching that built my business and will put my children through college. It was a huge leap of faith to forgo the traditional route for the entrepreneurial one.

QUICK Q’s:

What is your favorite children’s book?
Don’t Make Me Laugh
by James Stevenson is my favorite children’s book. The premise is that if the book makes you laugh at any point, you have to go back to the beginning and start again. My children didn’t want the book to ever end, so they would always find a way to laugh. It had a long run in our house as both my children took pleasure in ad-libbing the story to make it even funnier. It made story time full of laughs.

What has been your favorite kids’ class?
My favorite type of class is one that grows with the child so that you can see their skills and enjoyment evolve. When I first started teaching Learn to Swim lessons, my greatest satisfaction was seeing a child go from paddling to a beautiful proficient stroke. Seeing the individual development of each child while he or she learns to love to swim is my greatest joy in teaching.

What is your favorite thing to do with your family on weekends?
I have a very large family (eight siblings!). My two children have thirty four cousins—big and close! Most of us live locally. Our weekend activities revolve around which cousin is doing what and where. We all attend each other’s events, or go to a play, game, or swim meet—it doesn’t matter. It is not unusual to have 18 family members at one cousin’s swim meet. We are an amazing cheering section.

What is your favorite rainy day escape?
Manicures and pedicures with the girls.

Ginny Nussbaum is the co-founder of Island Swimming, where she teaches kids age 2–10 how to swim and develop essential water skills through the program’s Learn to Swim program. She began her career as the aquatic director at Adelphi University and later took a position coaching and directing national and international competitive events in Nassau County.  

Head of the Class Mom: Daisy Downs

Meet this week’s Head of the Class Mom, Daisy Downs—VP of marketing & co-founder of Urbansitter, and a mom to two amazing girls!

Tell us about yourself. Why did you start UrbanSitter?
I’m a native New Yorker (I grew up on the Upper East Side), but have lived in San Francisco with my husband and two daughters (ages 5 and 1.5) for the last 15 years. I started my career at a startup 15 years ago and then spent 10 years in advertising. I was drawn back into the startup world after my first daughter was born.

UrbanSitter was born out of a need. A year into motherhood, I realized I hadn’t gone out since my daughter was born. It wasn’t for lack of invites, but rather the feeling of dread I had when I realized I would have to hunt down a sitter. It was clear to me that finding and booking babysitters was a huge stress for parents and something that could be solved with technology. So, I teamed up with two moms with very different skillsets from my own to start UrbanSitter.

What started as a tool to get me out more often has become so much more than that. Parents tell me that UrbanSitter makes their careers possible because they are able to find last minute babysitters when other childcare falls through. Sitters tell me that they are paying their way through college with the money they make. Young professionals in the arts say they can follow their passion because UrbanSitter has created flexible work for them to pay their bills. I was excited to start this company four years ago to solve a personal need, and the stories of our parent and sitter customers motivate me every day.

What is your secret to balancing work and family? Is there a balance?
For me it’s not about balancing the two, it’s just about staying sane. Here are my tips for keeping sane as a working mom.

I embrace the positive effects that being a working mom has on my family and kids. Here are a few:
• My job brings me joy, and a happy parent is a good parent.
• I am a role model for my daughters should they wish to continue their careers when they have children.
• My daughters have another adult in their lives, their nanny, who showers them with love and care.
• We hire babysitters a lot so my kids are really comfortable around new people, and don’t have separation anxiety.

I try not to let the logistics of parenthood get the better of me. Here are three things I could not live without:
• My Google calendar shared with my husband. It sounds basic, but making sure the two of us are in sync on who’s doing what has been revolutionary for our household.
• UrbanSitter. Yes, I’m biased, but knowing that I can always find trusted childcare means that there’s no panic or anxiety when my nanny calls in sick. It means that we can take friends up on a spontaneous dinner invitation. It is liberating.
• Instacart. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that even if I can do something myself, sometimes it’s worth it to pay someone else to do it. Time with your kids and family is precious, so go ahead and treat yourself to help. For me, one of those things is grocery delivery from Instacart.

I make sure to spend meaningful time with my kids and husband.
• Date night is a regular thing in our household.
• I do my very best to make weekends family time—keeping work to nap times.
• I schedule special activities with each of my girls every week.
• I try to be in the moment when I’m with my kids. No phone, no distractions. But let’s be realistic here, the weekday morning routine doesn’t count. Sometimes I need to plunk my kids in front of the TV to get us all out of the house on time!

Share a funny story that helped you become a better parent and/or better at your job.
When I told my daughter (2.5 years old at the time) that the last two green beans on her plate were sad because they missed their friends in her belly, she said “You know who else is sad, Mommy? The cupcake in the fridge.” From that point on, I knew I really had to up my parenting game!

What has been your biggest challenge and/or greatest reward in the struggle for work-life balance?
My biggest challenge has been in realizing how important time for myself is. Secondarily, I came to the realization that once you have kids, you have to carve out this time proactively—it doesn’t just happen. With so much focus on work and family, it’s been hard for me to prioritize exercise, calling friends, or getting a haircut. I think I have finally figured out how to make these things happen, but it’s taken five years.

What is one thing you wish you knew before you had kids?
Nothing people told me before I had kids really stuck because I didn’t have the context for what it meant. Parenthood is something I just had to experience to understand. The adventure has been in figuring it all out—the good, the bad and the ugly—alongside other parent friends.

If you could give other moms one piece of advice what would it be?
Building on the last question, I’d have to say: Make time for yourself. Start slow, but start right away. When your baby is born, schedule an hour at a consistent day/time every week that is yours to be away from your family.

QUICK Q’s:

What is your favorite children’s book?
Bread and Jam for Francis
. My girls have both become picky eaters so this really hits home for me.

What has been your favorite kids’ class?
Swimming. My daughter just loves being in the water so she’s happiest in this class, and thus it’s my favorite!

What is your favorite thing to do with your family on weekends?
My kids are still young, so going to our local playground is exciting and fun for us. My eldest has just mastered the monkey bars (yes, she is very proud of this accomplishment) and the little one has learned to climb a ladder!

What is your favorite rainy day escape?
Building forts under our dining room table.

Daisy Downs is a Stanford graduate and started her career at a Bay Area startup. She then spent 10 years working for advertising agency Goodby, Silverstein and Partners in client services and digital production, advising global brands such as HP, Rolling Rock, and Frito Lay. She now heads up Marketing at UrbanSitter. UrbanSitter is a website and app designed to help busy parents find trusted babysitters quickly and efficiently.

Head of the Class Mom: Valentina Van Hise

Meet this week’s Head of the Class Mom, Valentina Van Hise—owner and director of The Art Farm in the City, and a mom to two amazing boys!

Tell us about yourself. Why did you start The Art Farm in the City?
I have always had a passion for music, singing, and children, so I pursued a career in music education. After I graduated college I was a choral and general music teacher in a downtown Brooklyn elementary school. During the summers at the time, I vacationed out in the Hamptons and met the woman who started The Art Farm in the Hamptons. While living out there for the summer I started teaching Mommy and Me music classes that were such a hit, we decided to open a facility in Manhattan. We first opened in February 2002, and over the years I’ve grown and developed The Art Farm in The City. Now 13 years later I run all operations and am working on expanding to a larger facility to give more families the opportunity to learn and connect with nature in an urban environment.

What is your secret to balancing work and family? Is there a balance?
I live in NJ with my very supportive husband and two boys. I try my best to balance work and family and am committed to scheduling time for both. I work from home two days a week so I can be a part of my sons’ lives and be involved in their day-to-day at school. Having a healthy balance of work and family really keeps me grounded. I really enjoy my career and would resent it if I didn’t have ample time to be a part of my children’s lives, but I know being a stay at home mom wouldn’t be the right fit for me either. The days I commute into the city are long; however I really enjoy working with my staff and our clients.

Share a funny story that helped you become a better parent and/or better at your job.
I can’t think of one glaring story at the moment, but I think having children just presents opportunity for many funny moments. My boys are always making us smile, especially my younger one—he’s a firecracker. I think I learned it best from my parents because I was pretty silly when I was a child.

What has been your biggest challenge and/or greatest reward in the struggle for work-life balance?
My biggest challenge is missing important things that go on in my sons’ lives when I can’t be there because I’m working—but all working parents go through that. My biggest reward is offering children our programs and watching my staff and clients enjoy being a part of The Art Farm in The City.

What is one thing you wish you knew before you had kids?
I feel like I knew a lot about parenting before it actually happened to us. I had been babysitting for years, have nieces, and am a teacher/director. But I wasn’t prepared for two boys. I come from a family of all girls, two sisters and all nieces. My boys are the only boys in the family. People told me that my boys would wrestle on the floor all the time, but, no one prepared me for how much they love to run around naked. It amazes me every night before and after their baths—my five year old and two and half year old love to run around and dance naked. Other mothers of boys can attest, yes this is what little boys do. So now I just throw my hands up and let them get it out of their system. After all, they have the same parts so no one’s privacy is being invaded.

If you could give other moms one piece of advice what would it be?
Let your children be who they are. Let their lights shine through. As parents our job is to teach them manners, and make sure they’re safe, know their boundaries, and are good citizens (just to name a few things). I also think this goes a long with giving other parents advice. Love them until you can’t love them anymore. Snuggle, kiss, and cuddle them as young children and give them positive direction as they grow. If you love and accept them they will love and accept others as well.

QUICK Q’s:

What is your favorite children’s book?
The Giving Tree
by Shel Silverstein. I have others but this is the most well known. I am excited now that my son is in kindergarten, as he is at a good age for this book and I can now share this wonderful story with him.

What has been your favorite kids’ class?
Rock, Smocks and Animals at The Art Farm in The City! I have created the curriculum and have been teaching it for over 13 years. I’ve handpicked each song and activity, created all the art projects, reviewed all the story books, and have written lyrics to many of the animal songs that go with each lesson. It is such a cohesive class, from singing and dancing to introducing to a new live animal each week. We first introduce the animal of the week with toys that are replicas of the real animal we are about to meet. We sing about the animal and teach the children how to be gentle and pet with the toy first. Then we clean up, read a story focusing on the animal and then our animal educator brings in the live animal for the children to meet. On art days we create simple fun, age appropriate art projects based on the animal we just met. The class is not over until you meet all of the animal friends in our petting zoo. From start to finish it’s an amazing fun, creative, educational hour. Can’t you tell I love it? I still teach four classes a week.

What is your favorite thing to do with your family on weekends?
Going to my parent’s farm out in Pennsylvania. My parents are New Jersey natives and retired on 130 acres in Pennsylvania. They built a home where their children can come with their children. We often go out there to just be with family—my children get to spend the weekend with their grandparents, aunts, and cousins and sometimes extended family too. It’s a special time when we can get away and relax at a slower pace and my boys can help their “Pee Pop” take care of his animals on the farm (horses, cows, chickens, ducks, cats, and dogs).

What is your favorite rainy day escape?
Playing a board game in our house, or my son loves putting on our boots, grabbing umbrellas, and splashing in the puddles down our quiet street. My little boys would jump in puddles all day if I let them.

Valentina Van Hise is the owner and director of The Art Farm in The City. Previously she was taught classes at the Art farm in the Hamptons and was a music teacher in a downtown Brooklyn elementary school. She has two young sons. 

Head of the Class Mom: Leah Garrad-Cole

Meet this week’s Head of the Class Mom, Leah Garrad-Cole—co-founder and president of Love Child Organics, and a mom to two amazing kids!

Tell us about yourself. Why did you start Love Child Organics?
I used to be a teacher for children with special needs and have always been interested in the link between diet and child development. When I started feeding my daughter solids, I was surprised that much of the organic prepared baby food wasn’t pure and had preservatives and fillers. At the time, my husband and I were keen to start a business together. We decided to create Love Child Organics with the commitment to making organic food for little ones that is 100% pure, with added superfoods and never any preservatives or fillers. I believe that parents deserve this sort of honesty and integrity from the organic products they feed their children, and babies deserve as much nutrition as possible in every bite.

What is your secret to balancing work and family? Is there a balance?
I wish I knew the secret but I suspect there isn’t a way to truly find a balance. I certainly haven’t found it yet. I have to work on it every day and I am constantly adapting and changing my strategies. Right now I’m focusing on putting away my iPhone when I’m with my children. This is hard because I handle all of the social media for Love Child Organics and I feel like I always need to be checking it. But I’m learning that things can wait and it’s more important to be fully present with my children when I am home with them. I’ve learned that for me it’s difficult to work and look after the kids at the same time and to do a good job at both. I’ve learned that I need to have the separation of going to the office and focusing on my work there, then coming home and making my family the focus.

Share a funny story that helped you become a better parent and/or better at your job.
I’m not sure if this is funny or kind of sad, but about a year ago my daughter came running up to me in a big panic after I had left the living room to go to the kitchen. She had my phone in her hand and was saying, “Mommy, mommy careful, you left your phone! You left your phone!” The fact is I’d only just left it in the next room, but she thought this was a big deal because I was so stuck to it all the time. This was a big wake up call for me and now I try to put my phone away as much as possible when I’m around my children.

What has been your biggest challenge and/or greatest reward in the struggle for work-life balance?
My biggest challenge is spending what I consider to be too much time away from my kids. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully let go of the guilt, but I try to make every moment that I do have with my kids really count. The reward in this is knowing that I can use my working life and how I manage it as an opportunity to positively impact their perception about having a working mother. My daughter is five now and I talk to her openly about why I work, the positive impact it has on me as a person, and how my salary helps our family.

What is one thing you wish you knew before you had kids?
That being a teacher previously wouldn’t make parenting any easier. I thought all the training would help—and it does for some things—but everything is different and more emotional when it comes to your own children.

If you could give other moms one piece of advice what would it be?
When you are having a stressful moment with your children and feeling overwhelmed, say to yourself, “This is just a moment in time, and it will pass.” Keep saying it to yourself until you feel calm and in control of your emotions. Someone gave me this advice when I had my first child. I use it often and it helps me to keep difficult parenting moments in perspective.

QUICK Q’s:

What is your favorite children’s book?
I love Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley.

What has been your favorite kids’ class?
I’m fortunate that we have skiing classes for three year olds where I live. I have loved watching my daughter learn to ski.

What is your favorite thing to do with your family on weekends?
I love just staying in our pajamas and having a nice relaxed morning with a big breakfast and lots of books and puzzles.

What is your favorite rainy day escape?
Hitting the indoor skating rink for some family skating is always fun. They let us bring the stroller right on the rink, so even my two year old, who isn’t quite ready for skates, can cruise the ice.

Leah Garrad-Cole is co-founder and president of Love Child Organics. The birth of her own children, Poppy and Cam, were the inspiration behind her desire to start Love Child. Before founding Love Child, Leah earned a master’s in special education and for many years taught children with learning and behavioral difficulties.