It Doesn’t Matter What You Say. Babies Just Like the Sound of Your Voice

“Can’t sleep, Little Alice? That’s okay, neither can I.” Grandma lifted the fussy baby out of the crib. “Let’s get you in dry pants. Then we’ll see if your mother left you a bottle in the fridge. Maybe there’s a beer in there too.”

The baby drank half the offered bottle, then started whining again.

“All right, Missy.” Grandma lifted Alice to her shoulder and patted her back until she burped. “Let’s take a little walk. Let me grab my drink – light beer, but it’ll do. You know what the most popular beer in Honduras is called, Alice? Salva Vida. ‘Life saver.’ It has a picture of a life preserver on the label, like the ones you see on boats. They throw them out in the water to save drowning people. Life preservers, not beers.

“Where was I? Oh, yes,” she said, taking a sip. “Beer. Beer got me in trouble once. Well, beer and that terrible car that broke down in almost every state between New York and Utah. Diane, a friend from college, and I drove out west in my VW. Actually I drove, because she couldn’t handle a stick shift and she was afraid the car would fall apart while she was driving. With reason. We made it from Brooklyn to eastern Pennsylvania before we had a flat tire. And it only got worse from there. Something odd happened with the starter in Iowa. Apparently, it lost its joie de vivre. That meant most mornings, we had to push the car, then pop the clutch to get the engine to start. Usually other campers were great about helping, especially if we had given them dinner the night before.

“The morning we left the campground in Rocky Mountain National Park, it was still cold out, probably 30 degrees, chilly for July, but by the time we reached Arches, in Canyon Country, it was 103 degrees. That’s really hot, Alice. So after we found a campsite, I changed into a bathing suit, which I thought went well with my hiking boots, sat on the ground, and spaced out. Diane brought me a beer. A park ranger stopped by and invited us to the fireside talk he was giving that night. Diane agreed. Later, she said it was probably my stylish outfit that attracted him. Then two guys we’d met at a different campground stopped by. You have to understand, Sweet Alice, there weren’t all that many people on those roads. I had a green VW. They had a black Chevy. There was also a motorcycle guy we passed, or he passed us, at least a dozen times on the way to the park. They got to be like old friends when we’d run into them at a water pump or a gas station. Anyway, Diane asked the guys to come to the fireside talk too.

“After the talk, the ranger offered to take Diane and me for a ride, to show us the park at night. And like incredibly stupid girls, which we really weren’t except for right then, we said yes. Then I asked the two guys to come along with us. I’ll have to talk to you about all of this when you’re a little older, Alice. So the five of us took off in the ranger’s car, going someplace unknown in the pitch dark. I’d never seen sky so dark or all the stars that actually live there. Finally, the ranger pulled over, stopped the car and said, ‘We’ll walk from here. You can take your clothes off if you want.’ Diane and I looked at each other and shook our heads. ‘No,’ I said, ‘we’re okay, thanks.’ We followed the ranger along a little stream that smelled terrible, and across a chert field. Chert’s what the native people made knives and arrowheads out of. It’s incredibly sharp. Diane brought a little flashlight that lit an area about the size of a softball. I hoped she had some sense of where we were because I have a terrible sense of direction, even under the best of circumstances.”


Alice, who had been sinking into a ball, made burbling noises. Grandma hiked her up. “Well, Missy, you’re about ready to nod off. Let’s get you back in your crib.”

She settled the baby, gave her a kiss goodnight, then turned off the overhead light and switched on the nightlight.


After her grandmother left, Alice opened her eyes and watched the dim shapes of the fish mobile swimming through the air over her head.

“In a little while, I’ll wake her up again. Then maybe she’ll finish the story.”



Author’s Comment: For a long time, we’ve been told that babies like the sound of a calm, familiar voice. The content is irrelevant. But as a new grandmother, I wonder how much babies actually understand. More than we think, I suspect, though probably not at much as the baby in the story! The first part was easy – just a typical night taking care of the grand-baby. I added the last part as a comic switch of point of view.