The night we came back from Winthrop, I read about Shearwey.

About how her mother allegedly left her next to her car, went to pay for parking, and that her daughter had disappeared in a mere ten minutes.

My first response was deep sorrow mixed with anger. After so many, MANY reports of kids being kidnapped even in surroundings much more secure than the side of a road, how can a mother leave her four-year old child untended even for two minutes, much less ten?

Was the parking meter across a monsoon drain that she had to climb down through to get to that she could not take her child with her?

Was it in such a treacherous, ‘mar fan’ (Cantonese for troublesome) route that taking her precious child was riskier than leaving her behind on the side of a busy street?

And at the same time, I felt loathe to judge the mother, for we are all imperfect. We slip, so many, MANY times. We scald our children’s mouths from food we forget or are too impatient to let cool. We tell ourselves, what’s one more hour of TV or computer? We sometimes even leave them in the car because taking them in and out of the carseat for a five-minute errand seems like too much trouble. We yell at our maids for letting our children fall off the swing or let trip over furniture when deep inside, we are really blaming ourselves for not being there.

We are human, after all.

The problem is, we get away with it most of the time. And then something like this happens. We grab our kids and hug them, thankful that this tragedy did on befall us the times we were remiss. And we all start by blaming the mother because we recognise the failure in each of us: The failure to be perfect for our children.

This morning, I read this.

And this.

Needless to say, much of my empathy dissipated.

And yet, how can it be true? How can a mother kill her own child? To what end? Did her boyfriend not want to marry her because she had a child? Was little Shearwey in the way? Or was it an accident?

Whatever the case, it is too late. Whatever the reasons, little Ying Ying is now dead. She will never go to kindergarten or sing in a concert. Receive another ang pow or visit the beach again. Learn how to read or write.

Whether she’d left her daughter on the side of the road, or participated directly in her own child’s demise, Jess Teh will have the rest of her life to deal with her loss.

And that is punishment enough.