Traveling anywhere farther than your front door with a toddler is not for the faint of heart – let alone on international flights to Japan and Portugal! But Nicole is not your average parent. She and her husband, Brett, have always loved travel and are loving bringing their son, Graham, and their soon-to-be son Milo on their adventures around the world.
They’ve got such a taste of the adventure bug that they themed their gorgeous nursery around their travels (check out that NatGeo map!). Read on for how they fit the world in their teeny-tiny nursery, the furniture pieces that’ll take them to toddler years and beyond, and just how you manage a 16-hour-time difference with an eight-month-old (it can be done!).
Name: Nicole Schussel
Current Title/Company: Speech-Language Pathologist, UCLA Medical Center
Square Footage: 1875
Rent or Own: Own
City/State: Agoura Hills, CA
Children: Graham, 19 months, and Milo, 2 months
While looking for a home with your husband, Brett, what factors went into your decision to live in a suburb of Los Angeles (instead of in the city itself)?
Brett and I lived in Santa Monica for a couple of years, which was such a fun time in our lives — however, we knew it would be virtually impossible to afford a home there once we decided it was time to grow our family. While we definitely miss the walkability (and the ridiculously-close proximity to the beach!), we chose to settle in Agoura Hills because it was the perfect balance of outdoor activities (hiking and mountain biking, specifically), while being nicely situated between LA and Santa Barbara. Sure, we have a beast of a commute to work, but it is SO worth it.
As as a mom to your 18-month-old toddler, Graham, and infant Milo, why are you excited to raise your family in the suburbs?
We firmly believe that the grass is greener where you water it, and we strive to put roots down wherever we are, in whatever stage of life that we are in. There are so many great things about city life and ‘burb life, and we are lucky enough to be in a pocket of Southern California where we can expose our family to both.
The community of moms in the suburbs is a strong force (sometimes, scarily so, ha!). In my “spare time,” I blog about the wonderful events and resources in my local community. Luckily for us, there is a plethora of mommy groups, parent co-op classes, nature activities, and free community activities for us to enjoy. On the flip side, our close proximity to Los Angeles offers opportunities for our family to see and experience the melting pot of the inner city. We love having access to the best of both worlds.
Walk us through the design process of transforming your office space into a nursery.
At first, we weren’t sure how we were going to make this small space into a nursery that would work — but, turns out that babies are tiny, too!
We began by sketching out how we were going to transform a built-in shelf/cabinet into a changing table/dresser/closet area because we knew there would be no space for a dresser and there was currently no enclosed closet in the room. We started by clearing out all of my crafting stuff (mom sacrifices!). The bottom part was originally a cabinet, which we wanted to be transformed into three long drawers with two cubby holes at the top where we would place baskets. Then, we removed the upper shelves and installed a clothing rod, where we would hang jackets, nicer outfits, etc. We left the top shelf and placed additional baskets on top for storage.
The office was originally open to our master bedroom, so we decided on adding French doors to close off the space.
Although we love a good DIY, we know that some aspects of home renovation are best left to the experts, so we hired a professional carpenter to make our hand-sketched idea come to life. He totally crushed it, and we were thrilled with the results!
Now that we had the basic tenets of a nursery, it was time to decorate. A few years back, we wanted a fun way to remember all of the places we’ve traveled together — so, we bought a big map from National Geographic and mounted it on the wall in our office. We thought, why not make our nursery theme around travel?! Hence, we went with a vintage airplane theme for our little baby boy.
Where did you get the inspiration for the vintage airplane theme of the nursery and what’s the significance behind the large National Geographic map?
My husband and I have always loved to travel — and, as a way to remember the places we’d been together, we purchased a NatGeo wall map and stuck it up on our office wall with some cork board behind it, eventually framing it out with chair rail molding. We always stick a pin in each new destination that we visit, but thanks to our hasty way of putting it on the wall, we knew it would be stuck there — for good.
Honestly, knowing that we couldn’t move that map from the wall sort of shaped our theme for the nursery — that, and our love for travel. We always hoped that our child would eventually “catch the travel bug” like us, so maybe it was our way of early persuasion..?
I come from a family of pilots (even my Grammy had her pilot’s’ license at one point!) and the airport is one of my favorite places to be. Airplanes represent my love of travel, and I love the look of old biplanes. One day, as I was walking around HomeGoods, and found a random delivery of vintage airplanes — suddenly, inspiration struck, and we started down the road of brainstorming for the nursery! And, of course, I swiped as many of the airplanes that I could carry 😉
What unique challenges did you face while creating the nursery and how did you overcome them?
SPACE. This room is teeny-tiny, so we had to get our creative juices flowing when figuring out how to make it functional but not too crowded. My favorite space-saving design aspect was finding the perfect wire baskets to mount on the walls, for both our diaper changing area, as well as in place of a bookshelf. We found these at Cost Plus World Market, and The Container Store. Also, with the complete absence of a closet and no space for a changing table or a dresser, we essentially created a 3-in-1 piece of furniture, just by repurposing a random built-in cabinet that was already in place.
With Graham’s old nursery becoming the new baby’s nursery, what changes (if any) are you making to the space to personalize it for your new baby boy?
Probably not much, besides changing the name on the wall! Honestly, I was relieved to find out I was having another boy. Toddlers are busy, and it was one less thing that I needed to change around in my house before the baby arrives!
Where are your favorite places to shop for nursery/baby decor?
I totally dig HomeGoods – it feels like a treasure hunt every time I walk in. I had a gift certificate from Carousel Designs, which offers SO many fabric choices for changing pad covers, crib sheets, etc., so I loved going through and picking out items.
How are you preparing Graham for the transition into his “big boy” room? Are you involving him in the design process?
We took the “rip the band-aid off” approach, which seemed to work for our kid — luckily! One day, we moved his crib into a new room and started calling the nursery “baby Milo’s room.” We also had been gifted a teepee, which we hadn’t yet put up due to space issues. As soon as we put that up in his new room, with some pillows and a basket of books, I think he was sold on his new room. Night #1 went off without a hitch, and we’ve been smooth sailing ever since!
What advice do you have for parents who are trying to design a room that grows with their child? Are there certain timeless furniture pieces to invest in?
We absolutely love our glider, and new moms will spend countless hours in that thing — whether it’s breastfeeding, rocking to sleep, or laying with your baby on your chest because they have croup and won’t sleep flat. I find that most “nursery furniture” can be replaced by furniture that will last into childhood years. For example, why get a dedicated changing table with diaper cubbies, etc. when you can just put a changing pad on top of a long dresser?
Tell us about your first international trip to Japan with an 8-month-old Graham and what surprised you the most about it.
The first thing I learned during our first few days in Tokyo was the word “omutsu,” which means “diaper” in Japanese, ha! It was nearly impossible to find a store that sold diapers in the middle of Shibuya, even with the help of many kind strangers. Also, as he was starting to eat more and more solid foods at the time, we also needed help tracking down puree baby food, which ended up being a total bust, even though we had done research before going on our trip. Graham ended up eating avocados and bananas for most of the trip, along with sashimi, tofu, ramen noodles, and other unknown food items that we were served during our meals. We got the go-ahead from our pediatrician before leaving to feed him pretty much anything while we were there (once we ensured that he wasn’t allergic to shellfish or nuts!), and it was so relieving to see him adapt so easily — can’t believe that we were the worried ones!
We were surprised at how unrestricted we felt traveling with a baby. Luckily, he wasn’t all that mobile yet, which made things a lot easier, and he was more than willing to nap on-the-go in his stroller or while being worn in the Ergo. He even slept in his stroller through a late night karaoke session (wearing his baby ear protection headphones!). The wonderful plus side of such a dramatic time zone change is that no one is on a schedule, so all bets are off when it comes to naps, etc. Of course, this meant that sometimes we were all wiiiide awake at 3 am, but you win some, you lose some!
One of my favorite memories was on our last night in Japan, as we scored the last seats in this tiny, 6-seat sushi counter restaurant that Anthony Bourdain had visited — we couldn’t believe our luck! This 80+-year-old sushi master and his wife were behind the counter with huge smiles when they saw us walk in with Graham in the Ergo. I told them through Google-translated Japanese and hand gestures that the baby would be asleep soon, but they just continued to smile and nod. Guess what? Graham didn’t end up falling asleep, but just kept looking around at what we were doing. Before I knew it, the sushi chef put his knife down, washed his hands, and then reached over the counter toward Graham — so, I did what any confused person in a foreign country would do, and I handed him my 8-month-old child. He and his wife smiled and passed Graham back and forth, and told us in their broken English that they are now his new “Japanese grandparents.”
Along with traveling to Japan, you’ve also traveled with Graham to places such as Portugal. From the plane ride to sightseeing, what’s your strategy to caring for Graham while making the most of your trips?
FLEX. I’m going to be really upfront here and tell you that, again, this is easier said than done for most people. I am very, very lucky to have a go-with-the-flow kind of kid, so I fully understand that some babies don’t flex all that easily. However…
Time changes get really weird, for all parties involved. Depending on how drastic the change is, we often choose to not put our kid on the typical 7-to-7 schedule during the trip. For one, by the time we typically get them adjusted, it will probably be time to go home. For our international trips, it has worked better for everyone to let Graham nap and sleep when he needed to, and to just let it happen.
This sometimes meant giving him a bath at 2 am after we came back from karaoke (which was like 9 am LA time) in order to put him down to bed. Yes, we woke up at 4 am to a wiiiide awake baby, but let’s be honest — that was going to happen anyways, because like I said, 16. HOUR. TIME. DIFFERENCE. We weren’t exactly sleeping through the night for the first few nights, either.
Whether it was in the Ergo, in a stroller, in his travel crib, or in a car seat, we tried our best to keep all other parts of his nap and sleep routine the same, so that we could make sure he got enough sleep in a 24-hour period. And, when we started to see things take a turn for the worse, we cut our losses and headed back so we could all grab some shut-eye.
Taking a toddler on an international plane flight was SO different than a pre-crawling infant. Be prepared to take tons of walks up and down the aisle, and pack their own backpack full of little toys, like a Slinky, stickers, crayons, little cars, etc. Also, give toddlers fruit snacks to chew during takeoff and landing, so that their ears equalize!
Also, don’t feel that you need to resort to giving your baby or toddler meds to ensure that they’re quiet or sleeping during the flight. For one, sometimes it works the opposite, and you may have an agitated and wired kid on your hands. Keeping a baby entertained on a flight is a lot of work, but you can do it!
Where are some kid-friendly places you’ve traveled with Graham and how has traveling helped strengthen your bond as a family?
Honestly, most places are kid-friendly, if you try hard enough!
Camping is now our new favorite way to travel — a year ago, we bought a pop-up tent trailer, and have been camping up and down the coast of Southern California regularly ever since. This summer, we are taking it on a road trip, camping at various places on the way up to Oregon and back — with a toddler and newborn, no less (wish us luck!).
Even with all of its fun moments, traveling often puts you in situations where you may be uncomfortable, exhausted, stressed, hungry — adding a kid to that can really elevate all of those feelings. Learning how to enjoy the journey, be flexible, and thrive in less-than-ideal circumstances is a quick way to solidify the family bond.
Growing up, instead of saying, “We’re lost,” my dad would say, “We’re on an adventure!” This perspective switch is the crucial difference between accepting a travel disaster and creating a great memory. And, even when it doesn’t feel like it, we always remind ourselves that, one day, we will look back and laugh at whatever is happening in that moment!
Whether you decide to travel internationally or domestically with little ones, keeping a healthy perspective on your expectations is the most important goal.
When it comes to child development, how has traveling positively impacted Graham’s growth?
As a pediatric speech-language pathologist, child development is sort of my jam. I’ve worked with children in the birth-to-3-years-old population for the past 12 years, and have gotten to witness firsthand the differences between a resilient and flexible child, compared to a child that is more rigid.
We can talk about nature vs. nurture all day, but there’s one thing that I do know — things that are unfamiliar to children are perceived as fear. If a child is never exposed to new people, languages, sounds, smells, tastes, experiences, schedule disruptions, then they will feel afraid of these things. Exposure drives away this fear, and even though we won’t be able to control how our children will react in different situations, our goal is to expose them to as many different cultures as possible. Plus, stepping out of comfort zones is good for all parties involved, especially when we have to adapt and adjust to new schedules, foods, and experiences — these are basic life skills, and we might as well get used to it early on!
What overall tips do you have for parents who are planning to travel with a young child?
Try to stay “hands-free” as much as humanly possible, especially if you will have to do a ton of train/airplane transfers! We liked to use our backpacking backpacks so that we have the ability to push a stroller (and, let’s be honest, so I can hold my coffee) while navigating through terminals. Packing cubes are absolutely CLUTCH for organizing, as well.
Bring your favorite baby carrier — we love our ergoBaby 360 Cool Mesh (because I’m a sweaty person). And of course, bring a change of clothes for all parties involved, and keep it in your personal item. S— happens.
Less is MORE. I am a chronic over-packer, but this had to change when we were bringing a baby along. Now, we pack small travel packets of detergent so that we can wash necessities in a sink, or we check ahead to see if the hotel or AirBnB has laundry facilities.
Finally, check your expectations at the door. As long as you go into the trip understanding that some things may not happen as expected, you open yourself up to new experiences that you may not have otherwise had… and that’s a good thing.
What were the differences in your first pregnancy to your second?
Even though I’m having another boy, this pregnancy feels different than my first. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m not pregnant in the heat of summer this time, but I’m personally celebrating the fact that I can still fit my feet into real shoes at this stage of my second pregnancy! The swelling struggle was REAL.
Not gonna lie — being pregnant while caring for a toddler is seriously rough sometimes. I’m hoping that this fetus isn’t too scarred from unexpected toddler “hugs” (see: body slams), and I know that he will recognize his brother’s “voice” through the thousands of raspberries that Graham does on my stomach.
It took awhile to feel that same bond with this baby because I was still so focused on Graham. I even accidentally skipped a prenatal appointment, which would have never happened the first time around. Now, I’m starting to get really excited, because I can’t wait to see Graham step into the role of being a big brother — he’s going to be so great.
How are you helping Graham adjust to his new role as a big brother and what’s your plan to encourage a strong sibling bond from a young age?
Graham is really into reading books, so we got a few for him that talk about becoming a big brother. He was also gifted a little boy baby doll, and he enjoys feeding it, changing its’ diaper, carrying it around, and reading to it. We talk a lot about “baby Milo” coming to live at our house, and he lovingly pats my stomach and gives it kisses. We are 98% sure he has NO CLUE how his world is about to be rocked, but luckily he got all of his dad’s empathic nature, so we know he will eventually adjust into his new role.
I grew up with two sisters and a brother, so I never really saw the “brotherly bond” in my own family. However, getting to see how close Brett is with his older brother made me so excited for what Graham and Milo are going to experience. We are, however, adjusting our expectations to a new low, preparing to give Graham lots of space to deal with the “growing pains” of sharing the attention at home. He loves to be given a job to do, so we will likely give him little tasks so that he feels as important and helpful as possible.
How do you make time for your own self-care and what does it consist of?
I used to dance from my youth up through college, and I was lucky enough to find an adult Contemporary Dance class that I attend every Tuesday night. It’s not therapy, but it feels pretty darn close! Even though I definitely don’t move like I used to (especially dancing through pregnancy… yikes), it is the perfect combination of a creative outlet, exercise, and stress relief. Thankfully, Brett is a rockstar when it comes to bedtime routines, so he gladly takes over while I head to class — and I return the favor when he wants to go mountain biking with his friends.
What is your current childcare situation and why is it the best option for your family?
We have this fun game going called “musical caregivers,” and now I know what people mean when they say that it takes a village!
We have a nanny two days/week, but since we work 10-hour shifts and have a long commute, we often have my parents or other babysitters take over for the nanny in the afternoons. We’ve been fortunate enough to allow me to decrease to three days per week so that I can spend the other two weekdays at home with him.
It is a true blessing to know that we have multiple adults that love and care for our little guy because each one brings something new and different to his life. Plus, we’ve found that he seems to be really tolerant of meeting new people and interacting with others because he’s always been exposed to it.
How do you and Brett divide parenting roles and how has becoming parents impacted your marriage?
Brett and I decidedly do not adopt the traditional gender roles of the 1950s – for example, Brett washes the dishes more often than I do and takes equal share (okay, more than his share) of caring for Graham. It is so nice to know that I don’t have to be the only one to put Graham down for a nap, for example, and that my husband is just as capable of doing everything that I do. This frees both of us up to tag-team raising this little guy so that one of us can go to a workout class while the other does bedtime routine, and vice-versa.
We are firm believers that “good kids” don’t just “happen,” and we spend a good amount of time talking about how we will share the responsibility when it comes to shaping our children’s behavior while building their character. We are currently going through an audiobook together about raising a toddler (which can be such a challenge!) and it is so great to know that we are learning and implementing the same principles and techniques. This helps significantly reduce the number of things that we argue about, because we’ve tried to make a plan beforehand — but, there are definitely some moments when we both look at each other and realize that we have no idea how to handle a situation, ha!
Sure, we faced some struggles adapting to this new pace of life with a baby, but we truly feel that our relationship has strengthened through starting our family. We know this isn’t everyone’s story, but we are grateful that we’ve grown closer in marriage through this life change.
When it comes to being a mom: what are you most insecure about and what are you most confident about?
I am definitely most insecure about maintaining my identity in the midst of being a mom and a professional and a wife and a friend and trying to juggle all of these roles. I rarely cut myself any slack — too often, feel like I’m letting someone down if I don’t meet my own ridiculous criteria for what “success” looks like in each of these areas. It is so hard to balance these different aspects of my life, and I am working every day toward being “okay” with each season of life.
I feel confident in my skills of asking for help and advice from my “village” — I have had to practice this many times, and there is so much comfort in knowing that there are multiple ways to raise a great kid.
If you could only pick one, what has been your favorite memory from motherhood so far?
It just happened the other day, actually (although there have been lots of great memories before this one!). I was feeling puffy and exhausted and overwhelmed and very pregnant… and Graham crawled up on my lap, touched my face, and said “Mommy… beautiful.” And then I proceeded to burst into love- and hormone-fueled tears.
Nicole Schussel is The Everymom…
A travel spot everyone should visit?
Probably the most impossible question for me to answer… but there is nothing quite like sailing down the Amazon River in Brazil. For something a little less “rural,” we also loved Lisbon, Portugal!
Travel essential you can’t leave without?
Oral-B “Wisps” — they’re like a disposable toothbrush, and nothing makes me feel refreshed after a long plane flight like using one of these!
Best way to spend a date night?
Bottle of wine, a killer charcuterie platter, hanging out at the beach at sunset. JUST. US.
Favorite children’s book to read?
Little Blue Truck — such a great friendship lesson!
Most embarrassing mom moment?
Being in a public bathroom with Graham, and having him say “Mommy going poo poo!” really loudly, haha!