Today’s (and tomorrow’s) post title is from a song in one of Stephen J. Sondheim’s musicals, “Into the Woods.”  (For a synopsis of the plot, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Into_the_Woods#Plot_summary)

(words and music by Stephen J. Sondheim, ©1986)

How do you say to your child in the night?
Nothing’s all black, but then nothing’s all white
How do you say it will all be all right
When you know that it might not be true?
What do you do?

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say ‘Listen to me’
Children will listen

Careful the wish you make
Wishes are children
Careful the path they take
Wishes come true, not free
Careful the spell you cast
Not just on children
Sometimes the spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you
Careful the tale you tell
That is the spell
Children will listen

How can you say to a child who’s in flight
‘Don’t slip away and I won’t hold so tight’
What can you say that no matter how slight Won’t be misunderstood
What do you leave to your child when you’re dead?
Only whatever you put in it’s head
Things that you’re mother and father had said
Which were left to them too
Careful what you say
Children will listen
Careful you do it too
Children will see
And learn, oh guide them that step away
Children will listen
Tamper with what is true
And children will turn
If just to be free
Careful before you say
‘Listen to me’

The powerful message in those lyrics sounds a warning to everyone.  I am one of world’s worst at forgetting that advice, and ignoring the caution – consequently I frequently suffer from “Foot-in-Mouth Disease.”  It is so difficult to take back what has been said and to undo what has been done. In the same way that “nothing done for a child is ever wasted,” it is true that “nothing said to a child is forgotten.”  Many parents, I realize, would argue that point!  How many of us have so often bemoaned the fact that our children don’t “listen to what we say!”  But the fact of the matter is they do.  Our words and actions seep into the recesses of their hearts and subconscious minds, and are expressed in unexpected ways.  Our words and deeds, through the behavior of our children, can haunt or bring honor to us.

I heard a series of sermons many years ago, the subject of which was the Ten Commandments.  In one of those sermons the question was asked,  “How can one honor one’s father and mother when they are not honorable people?”  We have all either known or heard of such parents, or seen dishonorable behavior in action. The question is not only “how” but “why?”  Well, why is not really an issue for those who seek to follow the commandments – we try to follow them because God commanded us to!  Besides, in order to live within a community, and for that community to function well, the Ten Commandments are essentially mandatory.  Almost all codified law throughout the world today is based on those ten rules for right and “civilized” living.

But how to honor the dishonorable, those completely unworthy of honor?  The sermon was of great interest to me, not because I did not have honorable parents and grandparents – far from it!  How do you teach that lesson to all unless it applies to all?  The answer was:  live honorably, and in so doing you will reflect honor on those who raised you, whether they deserve it or not.  Simple to say, and hard to do, because if your father and mother were not careful in what they said and in what they did, there would seem to be only bad examples to follow and emulate.  The situation, however, is not hopeless, and I’ll talk a bit about that hope in tomorrow’s continuation.

For most of us I suspect that the joys of parenthood (and grand-parenthood, or guardianship, etc.) far outnumber the trials.  It just feels at times like the trials are what stand out in our minds; however, “children will listen” is not just a warning, it is also a wonderful promise.  Yes, the warning to put your mind in gear before putting your mouth into motion is vitally important (and not just around children), but there is also the wonderful assurance that the good examples you set are seeds that will bear fruit in abundance.  Sometimes we never see or taste the sweet harvest of that which we have sown, but it does happen, and when it does, it’s a wonderful gift.

I invite your comments.

To be continued – for now, it is enough...