Billy loved Ashley, his baby sister. He really did.
What he didn’t like was that she took up so much of his mother’s time.
If his mother wasn’t feeding Ashley, she was changing her diaper.
If she wasn’t changing her diaper, she was giving her a bath.
If she wasn’t giving her a bath, she was rocking her to sleep.
And if his mother wasn’t rocking Ashley to sleep, she was taking a nap herself because Ashley had cried and kept her up most of the night.
Billy wished that his mother had a little more time for him. He dreamed about them doing something together. Like going to the park on a picnic. Just the two of them. Without Ashley.
One day, as though his mother could read his thoughts, she ruffled his hair and said, “I think that it’s time you and I did something together. Just the two of us.”
Billy beamed hopefully. “Nobody else?”
“Could we go on a picnic?”
His mother closed her eyes and smiled. “Ah, yes, a picnic. That sounds good to me. Let’s do it this Saturday.”
Billy could hardly wait. He dragged out the old quilt for them to sit on. He washed out the thermos bottle and wiped off the picnic basket. He could almost taste the cold fried chicken and the wonderful thumbprint cookies.
Finally Saturday came.
His mother came into his room. She wasn’t smiling. There were dark circles under her eyes. “I’m afraid we’ll have to postpone our picnic,” she said. “Ashley is sick. I have to take her to the doctor.”
After his mother had gone, Billy put the quilt away. And the thermos bottle. And the picnic basket. Then he went into Ashley’s room. Her yellow rattle was on the floor. Billy kicked it. Then he was sorry and picked it up and washed it off.
When Ashley was feeling better, Billy’s mother took his hands in hers. “It’s time to plan that picnic again.”
Billy smiled. He got the quilt and the thermos bottle and the basket ready. He was very quiet and very kind to Ashley. He did not want her to get sick. And she didn’t.
On Saturday morning Ashley gurgled happily in her crib. The sun was shining. Billy’s mother was wrapping up the cookies.
The phone rang. When Billy’s mother hung up, her face was sad. “That was Mrs. Benson. She sprained her ankle this morning. She can’t take care of Ashley today.”
Billy didn’t bother to put the quilt and thermos bottle away. When his mother offered him a cookie, he shook his head. As he passed Ashley’s room, he wanted to push the door shut with a bang, but he remembered how he felt when he kicked the rattle, so he didn’t.
The following Saturday, Ashley was not sick and Mrs. Benson’s ankle was fine. But Billy could have cried—it was raining!
He thumped down the stairs. His mother was putting food in the basket.
“It’s raining,” Billy said.
“So I’ve noticed,” his mother said cheerily.
“So we can’t have the picnic.”
Billy’s mother laughed. “I think the picnic has been postponed long enough. Please get the umbrella.”
Billy did as he was told, though he couldn’t imagine a picnic in the rain.
“Everything will get soggy,” he said as they waved good-bye to Ashley and Mrs. Benson.
Billy’s mother handed him the basket. “You carry this. I’ll hold the umbrella.”
The two of them walked down one street and up another. Billy kept asking, “Where are we going?”
And his mother kept saying, “On a picnic, of course!”
Finally they came to a big old house. The kind you see in storybooks. It had a wide, wrap-around porch.
“Right this way,” Billy’s mother said.
“Whose house is this?”
“It’s Mrs. Benson’s house. She said that we could use it. Isn’t this a wonderful porch? It’s just perfect for a picnic.”
Billy held out his hands. He didn’t feel a single drop of rain. They would be snug and dry on Mrs. Benson’s porch—and they would still be outside!
It was a wonderful picnic! Billy ate three pieces of chicken and two cookies. He drank at least four cups of lemonade. Best of all, Billy had his special time with his mother.
They talked about all sorts of things. About the new ant farm in Billy’s classroom. About the trouble he was having kicking the soccer ball. About why spring was Billy’s favorite season and autumn was his mother’s. And they talked about when Billy was a baby like Ashley.
“Did I cry like Ashley?”
His mother laughed. “Oh, much louder. And longer.”
“Did I take up so much of your time?”
“More of it. I was new at mothering when I had you.”
“Did you love me like you love Ashley … even though I cried louder?”
“I loved you every bit as much.” She smiled, hugging him. “I still do!”
When it was time to go home, they made sure they left Mrs. Benson’s porch as clean as they had found it.
It was still raining. Billy carried the basket, and his mother carried the umbrella. “We’ll do something together again soon,” she said. “I promise.”
Billy squeezed his mother’s hand. She was busy these days. But she loved him.