Contentment: Adapted From a Russian Story

Anina, soon to be eleven months old, feels entitled to do everything that any other human being does. It is unthinkable to her that other people can have computers, coffee, scissors, and dishwashers but she cannot.

She climbs stairs. With glee. With no thought for how she would get back down without assistance. If she sees that I’ve forgotten to bar the stairway, she races across the room on all fours to see if she can make it there before I block her path. Just tonight she was on the fourth stair up before we noticed her.

She finds it difficult to understand why she has to go to bed. At night, we sing her a lullaby Marnell remembered from Psalty the Singing Songbook. She used to cry when the lullaby started. Now, she just gets serious.

It’s time for sleepy time, It’s time to rest your head,

To snuggle up and get cozy in your bed

To dream of happy things, Of how much God loves you,

For you’re his special child, It’s sleepy time.

Marnell takes her to bed, although sometimes I contribute to the routine. Just tonight, as she climbed the stairs, I stuffed several of her animals through the wooden spindles to meet her on the way up. This, of course, is the highest form of comedy to her. A pink giraffe head poking through. The pale pink pig looking down from a higher stair.

Wouldn’t it be great, I think to myself, if all children went to warm beds. If they all had stuffed giraffes with pink yarn hair and dads who sing them lullabies? And now I get a little serious.

Adapted From a Russian Story

Anina also “reads books,” and it was in the book corner that I had an emotional moment the other day. We were looking at a book, What Kind of Bird is That? I bought this book online because I remembered it from my childhood.

What Kind of Bird is That? is one of the earliest stories I remember my mom reading to me. Or, at least, in my mind she’s only about 28, which makes me pretty young. And we’re in the front room of the old farmhouse on the couch across from the bay window. But maybe it was before the bay window; I don’t remember that part.

In the story, a discontented goose meets a succession of other birds, and trades with them. He trades necks with the swan, beaks with the pelican, legs with the crane, wings with the crow, and tails with the peacock.

Now, the goose looked like no other bird in the world. He strode on the Crane’s long legs, proudly waving the great peacock tail and turning the long swan neck this way and that, until he met a flock of geese.

The strange goose goes along with the other geese. But a fox comes and chases them, and the discontented goose finds that all his fancy new parts prevent him from flying. The fox captures him and would have put an end to him, but the other geese fly in and peck at the fox until he leaves.

At one point, Mom drew up birds for a church children’s class to bring the story to life, demonstrating the value of contentment. Some years later, I drew the birds myself. I think I still have them, fitted out with Velcro for trading legs and wings and beaks, although I’m pretty sure I drew a duck instead of a goose.

All of these details were flitting in and out and around my subconscious, when, for the first time that I remember, I looked down at the author section on the cover.

Adapted from a Russian story by V. Suteyev.

This made me emotional. I’m not exactly sure why. It’s as if the words dropped into a pot where the deep memories of childhood intersect with the ache of wishing that everyone else had that same kind of childhood. And then that ache intersected with my consciousness of what the word Russia has come to mean in recent days.

I went to my computer and Googled V. Suteyev, discovering that his first name was Vladimir. He was born in Moscow in 1903, and died in Moscow in 1993. He was involved in the book and film industry most of his life, but seemed to have a special affection for children’s stories. He was involved in World War II, fighting with Russia for the Allied Powers against the Germans and the other Axis Powers.

Adapted from a Russian story by V. Suteyev.

Why does this make me emotional?

I think my tears are for the devastation of humanity. For the countless children and adults in danger in the Ukraine because of what other people are doing. These families had nothing to do with the current war, but it doesn’t matter. My tears are also for the countless people in Russia, including the writers of children’s stories, who had nothing to do with the current war either, and just want to create happy childhood memories. Maybe my tears are for all people everywhere caught in crossfires made by others.

I think my tears are for the happy childhood I had, one where war and abuse were just words, not realities. Where we read books and drew pictures, like Vladimir. My tears are for my desire to pass that on, to create happy memories for my own daughter and for other children through The Brady Street Boys adventures.

I think my tears are for the common ground all humans share, the inborn desire to raise a child surrounded by books, not bombs. All people, surely, want to send their children to bed with pink giraffes and lullabies about how much God loves you, and not with explanations about the booming noises outside.

I think my tears are ones of thankfulness for the cross of Jesus Christ, the only Person who ever addressed the questions, by allowing himself to endure terrible suffering, and watch his best friends watch him suffer, to become the Answer. Even Christians don’t understand the world much of the time. But only followers of Christ have a leader who perfectly exemplified justice and mercy by walking straight into the pit of hell with no agenda other than perfect love and perfect justice.

I’m also grateful for the little hardback book, copyright 1973, that brought beauty and inspiration to my childhood, all the way from Moscow. If only we could all learn perfect contentment. At the end of the story, the goose trades all his finery back for his own parts.

He became a goose like all other geese. But now he was wise and kind and and never envied anyone again.

Perhaps our little Anina could benefit from this lesson when it comes to people with computers and scissors.

We know there are world leaders who would benefit from this lesson when it comes to far more serious jealousies.

And we could all use a little extra wisdom and kindness, like that goose.

Book Three, Noise in the Night, is officially available! This one is my personal favorite so far, although there are six more to go. Noise in the Night is full of camping memories from readers. Just this morning I realized that I forgot to acknowledge that in the book which is a pity. Something to add to the second edition.

Save with the set of 1-3. Click on the photo.

9 thoughts on “Contentment: Adapted From a Russian Story”

  1. I had no idea that story actually came from a children’s book! I’ve never thought to find the source.

    1. Katrina Hoover Lee

      Yes, it makes me wonder what happened to the one from home. I think they are getting scarce…

      1. I’ll be on the lookout because I’ve never read it to any grandchildren and the books will be packed shortly.

  2. My heart beats with yours…….We saw pictures of Ukraine devastation at a CAM auction last evening……it made me weep. This is not in a history book, it is current reality. May we all continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus wherever and however we can!

  3. Welcome to beautiful PA! Hope you have lots of time to shop and eat at all the places Lancaster County has to offer! If you get a chance, you could make a trip to The Railroad Diner, right beside the train tracks in the small town of Richland. Our customers love to watch the trains as they eat! If you like bookstores, Home Messenger is not far from the diner. Next door to the bookstore is a consignment shop, Once Mine Boutique. If you like fabric stores, Witmers Clothing is just down the road! Can you tell I like to shop?! Hope you enjoy your stay in PA!

  4. Welcome to Lancaster County! It would be fun to just happen to see you . Thank you so much for your blog and sharing. Have a wonderful vacation.

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