I’ve been holding on to this one for a while; posting now in honor of someone’s birthday. Also, happy Father’s Day to any fathers reading this!
(Haeba tate tateba ayume no oyagokoro;
“A parent’s heart that says ‘stand’ when they crawl and ‘walk’ when they stand.”)
Parents naturally take an interest in their children’s development. If a baby learns to crawl they anticipate it being able to stand; when it can stand they anticipate it being able to walk. Despite the imperative form (see below), the image is not of parents urging their kids to develop quickly so much as looking forward to the next step, wondering if it will come soon.
We begin with the verb 這う (hau, pronounced like “how” and meaning “to crawl”) in conjunctive form, with the conditional postposition ば (ba). This is followed by the verb 立つ (tatsu, “to stand”), in what looks like conjunctive form but is actually imperative. Together these act as a self-contained unit: “If crawl, then stand.”
The next unit follows the same structure: the verb 立つ again, this time in conjunctive form with the conditional postposition, followed by the verb 歩む (ayumu, “to walk”) in the imperative. Both of these units are then mashed together into a single quotative phrase, acted on by the associative particle の (no) in order to associate it with the final noun 親心 (oya.gokoro), literally “parent heart.”
Most learners of Japanese learn the verb “to walk” as 歩く (aruku) rather than 歩む ayumu, and my readers would be advised to depend mostly on the former. It seems that the difference between them is twofold: first, ayumu feels more formal and literary than aruku. Second, aruku can refer in general to going out and moving from place to place, without necessarily doing so by foot! Both readings can refer to one’s path through life, or the passage of time, but ayumu is more likely to be used in that sense due to its more poetic nuance.
Various contracted forms of this saying are also attested, ending at 歩め or beginning with 立てば.
(“Bonkobara san ga mada sankagetsu no musuko san ga hayaku shabereru you ni naru no wo tanoshimi ni shiteiru to iu hanashi wo kikinagara, a, kore wa masa ni haeba tate tateba ayume no oyagokoro da naa to omotta.”)
[“Listening to (Mr./Mrs.) Bonkobara talk about looking forward to their three-month-old son being able to talk ‘soon,’ I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is exactly what they mean when they talk about parents having expectations for their kids’ development.’”]