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: 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.
Laurie: 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.
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!