I met Layla outside while eating breakfast on the first day of the most recent buying trip. We sat at a community table with other buyers and vendors. Her eyes had a sparkle I've never seen before. They were the shape of almonds - piercing, kind, inquisitive and serious. I immediately knew I wanted to befriend her.
I watched her from a distance. She was confident and curious. Her words came out with a wisdom and an honesty that few exhibit. She was eating raspberries and squirming in her chair, trying to be as ladylike as she could. The conversations at the tables are usually about retail shops and shared finds at the show. Those sort of things are boring, sometimes - especially when you are five. I totally understood how she felt that morning.
I finished my breakfast and approached Layla and her mother and asked if she and I could "go play?" Layla looked me up and down. Her mother looked to Layla and the answer was yes. We went to play. Our playground was the backside of a casino convention center full of palm trees, well manicured bushes and sparkly sidewalks. We decided to find an obstacle course and tackle it. Long benches in rows became balance beams. We jumped over anything green, next brown, and then back to green.
She went behind the manicured bushes and we created a story about mazes and secret passages. She peaked through the openings at me and we giggled. There were "treasures" found - pieces of fallen palm leaves and pine cones and strange trash tucked into out of sight corners.
She climbed on things, assuring me she was an "excellent climber." When something became difficult to climb she turned to me and said, "Sometimes your body tells you that you need to climb back down and look at it again." We returned to the table of grown-ups and she and I went our separate ways for the day.
Later that day I took a moment to call home to check in with my son, Alex. Now 16 years old, standing at least six inches above me, moody and independent. This was his first day of junior year. Somehow that realization that we have 2 more years of molding before this kid could go out in the world and get crushed or, when I'm feeling positive, crush it.
I felt guilty for being in Las Vegas, so far away. Not able to make a first day sandwich or be home when he would come home to hear the stories of the day. He told me it went well. I asked specific questions and got vague answers. My eyes welled with tears as we talked. "We are here now," I thought. It all goes so fast.
He told me he missed me and that he loved me, I told him the same as I tried not to sniffle and let him know I was crying. He would roll his eyes and say, "Really, mom?" I hung up and pulled myself together, ready to make big decisions for World's Window and envelop myself in clothing show things.
The next day, there was Layla, dancing around the table as the Vegas sun shone down on her dark hair and her sandaled feet. I smiled at her, and I realized why my need to spend time with her was so strong. It wasn't rocket science, really, but it hadn't connected for me until that second morning.
I wasn't sad anymore. My son and I are exactly where we are supposed to be, moving away from each other in a healthy way so he can go figure it out for himself. He is too big to cuddle these days, and he doesn't need that from me anymore. He doesn't want to invent mazes and secret passages with me anymore; we already did that for many years. But Layla did.
And for the next few mornings, Layla and I had our morning adventures as the grown-ups talked. Thank you, Layla. You taught me that when something becomes difficult, you need to listen to your body. "Sometimes your body tells you that you need to climb back down and look at it again."