In 1984, during the height of The Berenstain Bears book series, Random House released a title by Stan and Jan that went largely overlooked. It came smack dab in the middle of the most-popular titles – after the bears went to camp and had trouble with money, before they got the gimmies and grew a prize pumpkin – “The Berenstain Bears and Mama’s New Job.”
It was a cultural commentary and a quiet encouragement to stay-at-home moms everywhere.
The book begins with a depiction of Mama’s “happy, busy, full” life. She is the glue for the family, spread thinner than anyone else.
One day, she receives unexpected praise for her quilts and urgings to open a business.
“Mama in business?” Papa asks incredulously, patting her shoulder. He makes and sells furniture. He is the entrepreneur. “I don’t think so. One business-bear in the family is enough.”
But Mama falls quiet, pondering the prospect all day long. The next day at lunch, she announces her plan: “I’ve decided to open up a quilt shop, and I’ve rented the empty store just down the road.”
Papa is dumbstruck, his spoon frozen halfway to his mouth and his tongue hanging out.
He and the kids protest, voicing worries about Mama’s absence. She proceeds calmly, swapping her polka-dotted mobcap for a yellow bowler hat with a perky daisy and straightening it in the mirror on her way out.
“Supper may be a little late tonight,” she tells them. “Ta-ta!”
The next page is the crux of the story. Supper is, in fact, “a lot late – and it was Papa and the cubs who prepared it. But they didn’t mind, because although Mama was very tired, she was very happy, too – happy and excited!”
The expression on Mama’s face as she sinks into a chair is priceless – wide eyed, goofy grin, delirious. She’s exhausted – even the daisy in her hat is drooping – but in the best possible way. She is dizzy with possibility.
As Brother Bear brings her tea and Papa brings her a barrel of hot water to soak her feet, they tell her how well they managed without her, taking on roles that used to be hers.
Two weeks later the Bear Country Quilt Shop opens, and Papa is perched on a ladder proudly painting a “Grand Opening” sign. It is a sweeping success – including a visit from the mayor – and the Bear family celebrates that night by eating out at Burger Bear, where Mama treats.
The story concludes with an image of her holding her hard-earned cash. “The extra money came in handy too!”
In ensuing books, Mama remains a present, hands-on parent. Her quilt shop isn’t mentioned, though her quilts surface regularly, a passion that never appears at odds with her primary vocation as a mom. Maybe she scaled it back at some point, perhaps she hired a full-time employee and grew the business while being home more.
But readers can be sure that the sense of accomplishment from her successful business endures. And those pondering a creative new venture can take heart in Mama Bear, accepting this 1984 book as a permission slip that has no expiration date.