I am the only child of my family under China’s One-Child Policy. I crocheted this pair of baby booties in white and blue for my future son. I used the same technique that I learnt from my grandmother. My grandparents raised me for my first twelve years, surrounding me with many special animal friends to keep me company. In Canada, I began my journey towards motherhood—with no rules imposed.
Do you have any siblings? I feel I have answered this question a thousand times.
No. I don’t have any brothers or sisters. I am the only child in my family because of the One-Child Policy, enacted in China in the late 1970s. My parents happily embraced the policy and felt it was liberating. Ultrasound wasn’t popular at that time, so my parents made a deal. If I were a boy, I would be named after my dad. If I were a girl, I would be named after my mom instead. So my dad lost, and I officially inherited my mom’s last name.
I spent my first twelve years with my grandparents because my parents were busy at their work; they could pick me up only on weekends and vacations. My grandpa was a teacher of civil engineering and could speak some Russian and English. He subscribed to children’s literature periodicals for me and had a habit of adding his last name in front of my name on all those books. My grandma bound her feet and never had a proper profession.
Believing girls should have basic housekeeping skills. She taught me how to crochet and knit at the same time as I was learning how to use chopsticks. She loved raising all types of animals. We had quails, rabbits, chickens, ducks, and pigeons, just to name a few. In the summer, students of my grandpa also brought me sparrows and fireflies to be my companions. My grandpa developed a special device to monitor egg growth, so he knew which ones were edible eggs and which ones contained baby chicks already developing. I observed that these babies did not have birth control rules imposed on them, as we did.
When I came to Canada a couple of years ago, I felt envious when people proudly talked about their siblings. When I was expecting my first child, I had many strange dreams, mostly about my childhood. I had a craving for something my grandma made for me, and I couldn’t find it anywhere in Toronto. I knew something was missing. It wasn’t just food I hungered for.
I feel I lack certain abilities because I was an only child. Without a sister or a brother, I had not developed my ability to speak, to listen or to debate. I couldn’t make myself understood among adults. I didn’t practise my verbal skills much or channel my emotions properly. There were many silent moments when I felt rejected. And I had nobody to share that feeling with.
Being pregnant in this new country, I started to realize that I had numbed my senses and quieted down all those years, like my friends in nature. Being like them was the easiest way for me to grow up.
I crocheted this special pair of booties and bib exactly as my grandma had taught me during my childhood. It was a special gift to him—my future son. Having him inside my body awakened my numbed senses and helped me to see my childhood and the meaning of motherhood.
When I finally saw his little feet inside the incubator after all my anticipation of nine months, I was so grateful to have him in my arms, as my unique product. He came from me and completed me. I am grateful to him for helping me patch up my childhood. I feel as if I have been reborn through him.
I wish for my child the right to weave his dreams and create his life freely.
JIE LI was born and raised in China. She landed in Toronto in late 2006. She works as a Senior Records and Information Analyst for the City of Toronto.