Smile Politely

Dispatches from isolation: April 15th

Our new column, Dispatches from isolation, offers a glimpse into how people in C-U are working and spending their time during this stay-at-home order. You can read previous installments here. Have questions, or want to suggest a person for this series? Email us at

How are you spending your days in isolation? 


6:22 a.m. 

I wake up to my human alarm clock, two-year-old Lennox James, shouting “Mama, where are you?!” from his room down the hall. I pluck him from his crib and bring him to snuggle on the couch in the living room while I wake up. He requests to watch Monsters, Inc. and I oblige. Disney+ is basically a member of our family at this point in the stay-at-home order. His sister, Harper (age 4), joins us and adds another blanket to the pile-on.

On a pre-pandemic weekday, our mornings start much earlier and are highly structured: benchmarks like getting dressed, brushing hair, and eating breakfast ensure we make it out the door on time for work and school. These slow, unstructured mornings as a family are one of the few perks of “life on the inside.” Everyone’s sleeping more.

My husband emerges and makes the kids breakfast and delivers my first cup of coffee to the pile-on. He’s a keeper.

7 a.m.

A slice of toast on a white plate. The toast is dressed with smashed avocado and seasoning. There is a Disney-themed mug behind the plate. Everything sits on a wood table. Photo by Stephanie Stuart.

Photo by Stephanie Stuart.

I make myself breakfast. True to my generation (I’m an old millennial), I make myself an avocado toast. To make it even more delicious, I make it on a slice of toasted zero carb bread and add Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel Seasoning with a pinch of crushed red pepper. The pepper is key. I drink coffee from my Disney mug that says “Mom” on the handle. I eat while answering work emails that came in overnight on my phone.

7:35 a.m.

My second coffee is iced. I hop in the shower to get ready for the day ahead. When the stay-at-home order first started, I would rush through this step since I didn’t have to put on professional attire. I have since started getting ready almost as if I’m leaving the house. I find that “getting ready” keeps my mindset positive and makes it feel like a normal day.

7:50 a.m.

A small boy looks out of a house window. He holds his arm up to the window. Through the window is another house across the street and a car parked on the street. Photo by Stephanie Stuart.

Photo by Stephanie Stuart.

It’s snowing, go figure.  The kids say it’s beautiful. To me, it’s sign the self isolation will never end.

8 a.m.

I log into my laptop and begin answering emails and working on the latest projects from my perch in the kitchen, keeping an eye out for my kiddos playing in the living room. Chatting with our team via Microsoft Teams, grant reporting, and preparations for a Parkland College Board of Trustees meeting that evening are on the agenda first thing. I make snacks on-demand for the next 45 minutes while my daughter practices sight words in the next room.

A woman with blonde hair and dark glasses looks down at a laptop computer. Photo by Stephanie Stuart.

Photo by Stephanie Stuart.

10 a.m.

I break from my work groove for the first conference call of the day, which is with a local non-profit partner calling about a rescheduled event. These conversations are common these days, as we push back and amend plans across the community. Nothing is happening according to the original plan, but it’s inspiring and heartening to hear the creative new plans emerging for how to carry on.

10:30  a.m.

A young girl is sitting and looking at a purple-clad iPad. On the screen is a Zoom call with other small children. She is wearing a pink shirt and holds a bonde barbie doll. Photo by Stephanie Stuart.

Photo by Stephanie Stuart.

Harper joins her daily preschool Zoom meeting from her iPad, so we make sure she’s set up with snacks for that. If you think a large Zoom meeting with grown-ups is chaotic, try joining a meeting with 20 four-year-olds. Their energy takes it to the next level. They do their Morning Meeting and talk about the weather, work on recognizing syllables, do an interactive social-emotional lesson on how to apologize, and have a dance party. We miss her teachers and friends terribly. While it’s great to have the kids at home full-time, we feel it is no substitute for the learning and structure a full day of school provides. Preschool teachers are worth their weight in gold, and this whole experience proves how important they are to making the world go ‘round.

11:15 a.m.

A homemade Cobb salad in a white bowl. The salad contains shredded greens, red onion, hard boiled eggs, large chunks of chicken, bacon, avocado, tomato, and cucumber. Photo by Stephanie Stuart.

Photo by Stephanie Stuart.

I break to make my kids lunch and then assemble a Cobb salad for my husband and me. I’m really enjoying meals made at home versus on-the-go. Our schedule trends early for lunch these days because my son’s nap time starts at noon, which means there’s a window of quiet time for me to hold meetings without lots of background noise and visitors.

noon to 3:30 p.m.

A blur of meetings on Microsoft Teams, discussing higher ed marketing strategy in a global pandemic, and responding to emails. One such meeting focuses on different scenarios that might impact our longstanding College for Kids program in light of COVID-19. We’re awaiting further guidance from the governor on what will be possible for summer camps this year; we know parents are rooting for options for their kids other than the four walls of their homes. In the late afternoon my husband leaves for a meeting, so I vacuum up crumbs from lunch and keep the kids occupied and an eye on my email.

5:30 p.m.

Dinner time! Tonight, it’s reheated leftovers, so I didn’t take a photo. Harper is a great kitchen helper, so she jumps in to do the dishes when she’s finished eating. I re-rinse them behind her because she leaves lots of bubbles.

6:45 p.m.

Two small children, a boy and a girl, are on laying on the ground laughing. The girl wears striped pants, and the boy wears a Mickey Mouse shirt and blue pants. He holds an orange ice pop. Photo by Stephanie Stuart.

Photo by Stephanie Stuart.

The kids have popsicles and giggle as I gather my things to leave for my meeting. Usually, I’m heading back to the office on a Board Meeting night, but tonight I have a different plan. My husband is planning some of their favorite bedtime activities while I’m gone, so the kids are excited.

7 p.m. 

A view from the driver's seat of a car. The driver (not pictured) is holding a book open. It is night, and the interior car lights are on. There is a phone number on the info screen. The Honda logo is visible on the stearing wheel. Photo by Stephanie Stuart.

Photo by Stephanie Stuart.

I call in to the remote Parkland Board of Trustees Meeting from the comfort of our family’s Honda Odyssey. This is the one place I can go right now where I’m positive I won’t be interrupted or infected. For the time being, the Board is conducting business via conference call as allowable by emergency amendments to the Open Meetings Act. Tom Ramage, the Parkland College president and my boss, leads the Trustees through a comprehensive update on the college’s response in the face of the pandemic. Everything you could imagine has shifted to a digital format, even commencement. I give my brief report, they vote on new business, and shortly afterward the meeting wraps up.

8:30 p.m.

While I’m away from the house, I drive to Target for a couple of essential items we were running low on. It’s my first trip there in a month and the store is eerily clean, empty, and well-stocked. I’m used to the place being ravaged by other millennial moms. I miss those other moms. Everyone maintains appropriate distance, I grab what I need and head home.

9 p.m.

I unpack my Target essentials, wash my hands, sanitize my phone, and pour myself a glass of wine. My husband and I catch up on the day, talk about what’s coming in the next few days, and reflect a bit on this whole situation. Around 10:30 p.m., it’s time for bed. Just another day in isolation, ready for the next.


Stephanie Stuart is the Vice President of Communications and External Affairs for Parkland College. She got her start in journalism during her time at the Illini Media Company while attending the University of Illinois. She was born and raised in Urbana (Go Tigers!) and now lives in Champaign with her husband, Dustin, and children, Harper and Lennox.

Top image by Stephanie Stuart.

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