A review of One Beautiful Dream by Jennifer Fulwiler
Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch
After a week of daily pondering the purchase, I finally ordered, “One Beautiful Dream” by Jennifer Fulwiler, from Amazon: “the rollicking tale of family chaos, personal passions, and saying yes to them both.”
Her story takes you into the madness we mothers sometimes get used to living. As they say, the struggle is real.
What is also real about this book? Called “ennui” in some circles, it is a listlessness that comes from an existential boredom. What is it all about? What is the point? On a podcast I hear the ladies joke: I give these kids three square meals a day and the next day comes and they want to be fed again?
It also called the “Feminine Mystique.” Maybe now we would only call it misery and burn-out. I think it comes with more self-guilt then ever. On the heels of reading “It’s Okay to Start with You” the best how-to book on self-care I have seen, I read those lessons put into practice in “One Beautiful Dream.”
In the process, Fulwiler debunks a few premises of parenting.
First debunked, the idea that this period of self-gift is temporary. After we pour ourselves out, we go back to our “real” life. Implied, the life when I can care only about myself.
Feeling a call and desire to raise many children, she ponders this mindset. With inspired “wholeness of vision,” she sees the wild years of young children in the picture of their future. They will have siblings. They will have family. They have no cousins, aunts or uncles. By having many children, she has the power to give them something great that will last them the rest of their lives: family.
Second debunked, you can have it all but you must have it alone. Fulwiler felt torn in two directions with the never-ending needs of her children and the yearning to write a book. Was she just being selfish? Shouldn’t she be more focused on her children? How dare she be ambitious? If she didn’t hear it from snotty women at the grocery store and doctor’s office, she heard it plenty from her own inner critic. A priest advised her to make it a family project, like a symphony, letting all the parts work together to create something beautiful. After living so long feeling she must do it all, she began to let others in, to let them help, and she saw the light in her grandfather’s eyes when she did just that.
Third debunked, having it all. What does that look like other than exhausting? Fulwiler makes the case that we actually need activity in our life that is creative and fulfilling.
After writing this book, in an interview Fulwiler highlighted the concept of charisms, which she refers to here in the book as the “blue flame.” A charism or blue flame is that project or activity that lights the rest of the fire. It energizes you; it is unique to you.
What others might see as terribly difficult that is, comes somewhat easily to you. You have a knack for it, and the development from knack to skill to gift is one you enjoy. It serves others and becomes something life-giving to them. In its power to energize, while some might judge is as hindering other duties, gives you zest to fulfill your responsibilities. It fills your cup to pour out to others. It is a joy, not a drudgery to share it.
And while the charism may be something we view popularly as a gift like writing or painting or public speaking, it could also be baking, cooking, decorating, educating children, taking care of babies, hospice care and organizing volunteers. Fulwiler teaches us through her work that so much of our comparisons (“my house is a mess, she must spend all day cleaning,” or “if I spent more time in the kitchen then I wouldn’t be such a slacker wife”) are merely us looking into the window of the other’s gifts, and then criticizing ourselves for not possessing the same gifts.
If we all have the same charisms, the world would be a boring place.
Do any of those premises need debunking in your life?