Before we came to the States, Lokes and I was part of the usual Malaysian cycle of life.

We met. We got married.

And got busy.

Lokes and I knew next to nothing about bringing up children, but went ahead and big fat did it anyway because like everyone else, we thought the only reason to get married WAS to have babies. We never planned any of it, and had let nature take its course.

Turned out nature was a little enthusiastic, and we got pregnant like a month after the huge wedding.

When we had our first child, I was working from home, which is just a fancy way of saying I couldn’t find a real job and was freelancing full-time. And I dare say now that it’s because I spent so much time with Rae that I learnt a lot about parenting. Good old-fashioned hands-on practice. Although we had a maid and my in-laws, the former was just for cleaning, while the latter handled most of the cooking. I bathed Rae, diapered her. I tried to Ferberise her, and failed miserably, after which Lokes and I happily embraced the wonderful concept of co-sleeping and attachment parenting. I read to Rae and sang to her. I took videos, pictures, watched my baby grow up.

When Skyler came, it was rinse and repeat. And today, I dare say I have LOADS of baby/toddler-sitting experience. Am I an expert parent? I’ll let you know in another 15 years.

At least.

Taking care of a baby is a lot of hard work. Don’t let what you see on the outside fool you:

The pushing of the nice Graco stroller in shopping centers with a sleeping baby inside.

The sitting at Starbucks enjoying a latte and chatting with other fabulous-looking after-birth mommies.

The gajillions of happy, smiling people in the perfectly Photoshoped Flickr images.

Nobody sees the ugly, sleep-deprived moments when you feel as though you’ve made the worst mistake of your life and wonder if you should be locked up for even THINKING that.

Nobody feels the frustration of not understanding your own child, and even worse, feeling the frustration of your child not understanding you.

Nobody will ever know the amount of emotional and mental strength you need to make it through day after day of the same routine because that’s what your child needs to grow up properly: consistency.

And after coming to Seattle and getting to know many other mommies of similar-age children, I’m even more convinced that I still have LOADS to learn.

Something disturbing I’ve observed, though, is how good we in Malaysia have it – or how bad.

The cheap daycare. The cheap labour. The FOC family support.

In Seattle (or perhaps this part of the world), young mothers have to sweat it out on their own. Most of the time, grandparents stay out of the child-rearing process. Daycare is crazy expensive, and don’t even talk about getting a maid or a nanny. Unless you have a good US2,000 to spare, forget about getting the kind of help we take for granted back in Malaysia.

The flipside is that these ladies KNOW parenting and taking care of their families – something we Malaysian young mothers will never know on our own accord.

And I find it kind of sad.

But guess what? The most important lesson I’m learning now isn’t how little I know about parenting.

It is how much I am finding out about my own kids.

How much, really, do YOU know about your own child?

Sure, you know his/her favourite colour, or food/drink/toy.

But do you know that when he doesn’t speak, it’s not because he doesn’t want to, but it’s also because he is selective?

Or when your daughter is angry, she’s not just spoiled, but scared?

Can you, in all honesty, say, and mean:

“I know my daughter. She won’t hit your child.”

“I know my son. He will not do drugs.”

“I know my kid. She won’t kill herself.”

We have lost sight of what is important in Malaysia as young parents. It is time we regain some semblance of sensible and responsible thinking because hands-on parenting isn’t JUST about knowing parenting: It’s about knowing your child.

That no matter who they turn into eventually, you will always be the one who knows that special something about them that nobody else knows because you were there.

All 18-20 years of it.