Nicki Radzely, founder of Doddle & Co, a company whose mission it is to bring you products that make the day-to-day realities of parenting easier, loves her storybook town in New Jersey, can’t stand complaining, gets real about way she handles the challenges she faces as a wife/mother/entrepreneur, and has journeyed from Catholicism to Judaism and loves the hora.
What is the story behind your name?
My full name is Nichole Ann Lake.
My maiden name, Lake, is rooted in English, Irish, and Scandinavian ancestry. My middle name, Ann, has been passed down for many, many generations. My mom wanted to name me Ricki, because she thought I’d be a tomboy. Thank God she switched to Nicki, because I could have been Ricki Lake.
Describe your early years.
I was born in Flint, Michigan, in a little town called Clio.
No one in my family – going back generations! – practiced any religion other than Catholicism and never had married outside the Catholic church. Everyone in my family lived in Michigan and there wasn’t an impressive amount of diversity. I do have a little Ojibwe in my blood, too!
When I went off to college, my mind started opening up, especially because of the people I met. My long-term boyfriend at the time was a physics major, and he was agnostic. He was so loving, kind, and generous, which really opened up my eyes, because I thought you really needed to have a spiritual foundation to have those types of deep morals and principles.
I later went on some life changing trips during and after college before meeting Gregg, my husband. He was the second person I’d ever met who was Jewish. I knew a lot about Judaism through reading the Old Testament, but I wasn’t aware of the modern day culture of Judaism. When I met Gregg, I was fascinated by his rich family history. One side of his family had lived in Europe during World War II.
What was your kid personality?
I’m the first born, so I acted like an adult most of the time. I was probably pretty bossy. I really wanted to be sophisticated and to do a lot in life. I had high expectations for myself. In my mom’s house, there were five kids; in my dad’s house, there were seven kids. I was the oldest of both groups.
I have been working since I was in Kindergarten!
I was incredibly shy, so, for the first day or two of Kindergarten, I went down to the secretary’s office and colored, letting recess go by. I continued to do that every day, until finally the secretary, Mrs. Pettengill, gave me little daily jobs to do.
By the time I was in second grade, she would leave for an hour during my recess, and I would take over the entire office. I would give ice to kids who were injured, I would call kids out of class when their parents came to pick them up, I would type up school announcements. It was serious, and I loved every minute of it.
What advice would you give your teenage self?
You’re gonna make it. Don’t give up. It’s impossibly hard right now, but you’ll be an adult soon enough.
I had a tumultuous teenage experience: my parents getting divorced at an early age and remarrying, having different families and extended families, moving across the country to Florida as a teen. I got lost a little bit. I couldn’t wait to be old enough to create my own life.
Describe your spiritual journey.
When I was a teenager, I put a lot of faith in the idea of God and what Christians tend to call a “personal relationship.” I was constantly being preached to in unnoticeable ways. There was this energy put towards being a good person and doing the right thing, but that always highlighted the wrong thing. There’s a lot of guilt built into the mainstream idea of being a “real” Christian. For me, the weight of never feeling like enough, but then being told you are more than enough, was un-reconcilable.
When I moved out on my own, I had to become very honest with myself about who I was and what I was made out of.
I moved out during the first couple of weeks of my senior year, and I was completely and utterly on my own.
Everything is fun and games until you literally have no safety net and nowhere to go, and you’re scared and trying to modestly make it from day to day. This slap-in-the-face, new reality somehow taught me to be honest with myself. What is going on right now? What do you need? What do you have?
When it comes to religion, if you ask yourself those same questions, sometimes there are answers, and sometimes there aren’t.
I could pray all day long, but that’s not going to put food on the table.
I could give all my money to the church, but that’s not going to help me put gas in my tank or pay for the bus fare to get to class. It all fell short. The miracles that seemed to happen to everyone else who prayed never seemed to happen to me. I started to look at everything with a new perspective.
When I was honest with myself, having faith in God wasn’t working for me the way that it seemed to work for everyone else. I always felt guilty, so it was so wonderful to finally realize that I have the personal relationship that everyone may be seeking, but I don’t need to announce it or exemplify it. It’s completely and utterly private.
When I met Gregg’s and learned more about Judaism, I really loved it. It aligned with my views. I believed I could go to church, or go on a really wonderful hike, or have faith by looking at my kids play. It doesn’t need to be in the confines of a prayer group, church, or someone’s view of what should be and what shouldn’t.
I can make it up. I can do what I want to do.
Judaism seemed to offer me that, so it resonated with me. I didn’t have to feel bad about myself. You can think what you want, to a certain extent, as long as you live a Jewish life, have a Jewish family, and I respect that. You’re continuing the lineage, and you’re raising good people.
How does being Jewish show up in your life today?
I’m not religious every day. I’m not feeling guilty every day. I’m not having to pray, or read a bible, or be in different prayer groups. The absence of that, to me, is how it shows up.
Judaism is always there if I need it.
If I’m going through a crisis in my life, I know that I can go and talk to a rabbi. If someone dies, I know that we’re going to sit shiva. If we do Shabbat, you light the candles one Friday, and you don’t do it the next Friday, or for a month, then it’s totally okay. That’s what I love about it so much.
Also, that makes me want more of it. I’m not at a season in my life right now where I can go to services at night or do much. But, I know that when the day comes, when my kids are a little older, and I work a little less, I want to be challenged. I want to wrestle with different ideas. I deeply love the idea of something more, and I have always been particularly drawn to philosophy.
What helps you and your husband make a good team?
I have my own business and brand, and, if I’m awake, I’m working. My husband has an extremely demanding job, and we’re trying to make it in the world and provide a nice home for our kids on very little sleep.
I remember when I was young, everyone said, “These years go by so fast, and you can’t get the time back.” I remember thinking, “If I’m lucky enough to have a kid, I would never let that happen. I would put that on my bathroom mirror and remember to never take it for granted, and never get tired, and annoyed, and bothered by anything, because we’re so lucky to be able to do this.” But, it’s true.
I’m always on very little sleep, and I have a ton of pressure and stress on my shoulders.
When we’ve been working 17 hour days, and we’re jet lagged and afraid that a gig isn’t going to go well, which could risk our livelihood and our happiness, and the kids are crying and fighting with each other, and there’s nothing in the fridge, and there’s guilt in not seeing your kids for a week, and you haven’t showered in four days, and you’re on the verge of crying, because you’re like, “I can’t take anything else,” I look at my husband and I say, “You’re driving me absolutely nuts right now. But, you know what? You still make me laugh.”
Then, 10 minutes later, I’m thinking, “You’re a really honest and loyal person.” It keeps going and going, until I say, “Okay, I guess it’s not that bad. I’ll go and shower, you take the kids out for dinner, then we’ll go to sleep at some point tonight.”
Someone gave me really good advice when I was in high school: when you get really mad at someone, imagine them as a baby or as a 99-year-old person. It strips away whatever they’re doing at the moment that’s annoying. Imagine them as they truly are. Keep it all in perspective.
What are your thoughts on raising boys these days?
I’m a 100% liberal, progressive feminist, and I have these two boys, and they have a father, so I live with three men.
What it comes down to for me is that they are looking at their father’s relationship with me, and our respect and love for one another. We’re equals. We have roles to play and strengths and weaknesses, but no one is stronger than another. We all bring something incredibly important to the table.
I try to stay out of their way when it comes to gender or their wants and desires.
I just want them to be who they are. Hopefully, if we’re doing our jobs right, and we love each other, and have respect for each other, and have a home of equality, that that will be their foundation. They won’t know anything different.
I just want them to be who they are. Hopefully, if we’re doing our jobs right, and we love each other, and have respect for each other, with a home that practices equality, they will have their foundation. They won’t know anything different. They will be able to recognize when relationships are not equal and balanced. Hopefully, they will see themselves as citizens of the world and rise up when they feel the need to take a stand.
What is an immediate turnoff for you?
Anyone who complains incessantly is like nails down a chalkboard to me. I can’t stand it.
What’s something that makes you smile?
Coffee and a sunny 70 degree day. I can’t be in a bad mood when the weather is perfect.
What do you love most about where you live?
Our town looks like a storybook to me, and there’s always an underlying sense of enthusiasm. Everyone’s out and about, running and walking dogs, carrying babies, and spending time outside. Everyone who lives here seems to love it here, so there’s a sense of pride for our community. I feed off it. I feel lucky to live here.
What is your favorite place on earth?
My die-hard go-to is New Zealand.
I went there in college on a volunteer trip with 50 of the best people. Most of us are still in contact to this day. I was finally free of any worry or concern and was able to sit back and enjoy being a 20-something and live out a grand adventure.
I had never felt so much like myself ever, in my life.
I don’t think I ever will again. It was a very special place and time, and it’s probably my best kept secret. It’s just magic.
We went to a place called Mount Maunganui, then Queensland. At one point, we were rebuilding the wetlands and digging ditches. I love hard work, so being with good people to accomplish a singular mission was really powerful for me. We also did fun stuff like bungie jumping, cave diving, and other adrenaline junkie activities. Plus, it was 70 degrees and sunny.
When I was on that trip, I also had a realization that I no longer wanted to become a medical doctor, which I had been working towards throughout my education. That was very liberating, because I had made a decision that was completely against my own dream, and I was sure about it. I wanted to pivot. I wanted to change.
I also reevaluated all the relationships in my life, which I had never done before. I came home and made some pretty big decisions. I matured in New Zealand. I went from being a college kid to an adult. Plus, it’s paradise!
What is your biggest inspiration?
I am deeply motivated when I travel and when I learn about another person.
If I go on a little three-day trip, and I see a lot of beautiful things and places, and meet a lot of people, I feel completely rejuvenated to go out and take the world by storm when I get home. If I need to rest and relax and be kind to myself, going away helps me gain that perspective. It get whatever I need from it.
If you’re listening to someone else’s story, even if it’s watching a biography on Netflix or meeting a stranger when you’re traveling who’s likeminded and swapping stories, that helps you gain perspective on your own life and put the pieces back in order.
I find that if you’re listening to someone else’s story, even if it’s reading a biography or chatting with a stranger and swapping stories, that helps you gain perspective in your own life and put the pieces back in order.
We’re not alone all the time.
I’ll either think, “Oh, if they can do it I can do it.” Or, “What I’m doing isn’t so bad after all.”
What is a cause that you really care about?
Oh God, I’m so anti-Trump. Generally anything in the opposite direction of this administration has my support!
I have always been an advocate for educating women and girls. I have an issue with kids growing up without their needs met. I’m a big advocate for clean water.
I also volunteer at Planned Parenthood. I bring meals and help girls when they’re faced with really tough decisions about pregnancy.
What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?
This isn’t a holiday, but I love a Jewish wedding.
I totally converted just for the hora!
I’d like to think that I do it really well! I get everyone riled up and form multiple lines. I feel like I could teach a class on how to do the hora.
For holidays? Rosh Hashanah is a good one, just because it’s family and everyone is together. This past one was extra special, because we had friends in town, and they invited a bunch of friends. It was a great opportunity to meet new people and share something that is a common denominator between all of these strangers.
Favorite Jewish food?
Easy. Homemade chicken noodle soup.
Least favorite Jewish food?
My least favorite would probably be gefilte fish or any of those one-offs that come out during the holidays.
Is there anything else you want to share?
The absence of religious sacrament in my life is the beauty of why I love Judaism. The way it shows up in my life is not loud and in my face.
The other thing I really love about it is the ritual. Going to the mikveh, I certainly enjoy.
Maybe this is the Catholic side of me showing up, but I like when things are sacred and quiet.
I’ve always enjoyed silence since I was little, but now, more than ever, I find it to be nearly holy.
Sitting shiva has been extremely healing for me, to the point where I told my family in Michigan, “We should sit shiva on someone’s behalf, because it’s the only thing that makes this moment in time feel comforting.”
Having a bris when my two sons were born, as stressful as it can be, I found really soothing. To have everyone come together, to have this ceremony.
I really love and respect those moments. It makes me think of all those millions of people through history who have practiced the same exact thing when they’ve had a son born, or someone has passed in their lives. Also, I don’t need to understand it all right now, I can work towards it. That’s the beauty of it.
Photos by Elena Mudd