Exploring the art of prose


Author: Jennifer Lewis

Author’s Note

In August of 2023, my oldest daughter left for college and immediately I received many forlorn looks with the same question from intelligent people: “What are you going to do when you’re an empty nester?” Huh? I wanted to say, That term is as outdated as spinster. Why do we still use it? Doesn’t it perpetuate stereotypes that family status defines a woman’s worth or happiness? Empty nester implies loss, suggesting that life diminishes after kids leave. My single or childless friends don’t have a counterpart to this phrase. Their lives keep thriving! Meanwhile, empty nester promotes this idea of a mother’s life being centered around sacrifice, and then there is a void. I didn’t want either of those statements to be true.

Maintaining my individuality has been a conscious choice. I love my children as much as any mom, and I’ve also retained the multifaceted identities I’ve had since before motherhood. Most of my friends don’t have children and my relationships revolve around creative projects. Because I attempted to compartmentalize motherhood, I thought my creative life would shield me from the grief of my children leaving. It didn’t.

When my daughter left for school, I recognized the paradox, and I tried, through this story, to subvert the narrative. I disliked the social stigma or pity associated with the term empty nester, yet I walked around the neighborhood carrying inconsolable sadness. This story helped me express the transitional time when an extra chair at dinner, a clean bedroom, or that first glimpse of an empty laundry basket can make you cry.

Before this story got accepted to CRAFT, I received a rejection letter from an unnamed editor that read, “The theme of loss is introduced right from the outset. However, when delving deeper into the narrative, it becomes clear that death is not the reason for the narrator losing her daughter—she has simply grown up.” I wanted to respond to this editor, Yes! That’s exactly it.


JENNIFER LEWIS is a writer, editor, and publisher of Red Light Lit. Her debut short story collection, The New Low, was published by Black Lawrence Press. Her stories have won the Nomadic Press Bindle Award and The Los Angeles Review Flash Fiction Award. Her fiction has been published in Cosmonauts Avenue, The Los Angeles Press, and Midnight Breakfast. Her nonfiction has been published in Alta Journal, Joshua Tree Voice, and The Rumpus. She received her MFA in creative writing from San Francisco State University. Jennifer teaches at The Writing Salon in San Francisco. Find her on Instagram @jenniferlewiswrites.