Staff reflections during a pandemic: Valerie Fleisher, “May you live in interesting times”

By April 1, 2020 Blog
As the world adjusts to a new way of living and working during the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked the Riverlife staff to reflect on how the new reality might impact our work to reclaim, restore and promote Pittsburgh’s riverfronts. Valerie Fleisher joined Riverlife in 2019 as Chief Operating Officer.

“May you live in interesting times.”

Growing up, my mom and grandma used to fling these words like a curse whenever all hell broke loose.

Now that I have come into my own as a fully-fledged middle-aged Jewish mama, I find myself muttering these words often — especially now, in the middle of these most interesting of times.

As the chief worrier and nagger at Riverlife — I think it’s technically called “Chief Operating Officer” — I spent the majority of our final week in the office ensuring that we had a solid plan and all the tools needed to take our operations remote.

I am proud of how our staff has tackled this challenge with tenacity, good humor, and flexibility. We are working hard to manage these interesting times in digestible bits, keeping essential projects moving forward without losing sight of the big picture, adapting and making contingency plans as needed as the situation evolves.

I miss seeing our staff in person, instead of as squares on a Zoom conference screen. And I definitely miss the inspiring view of our rivers, bridges, and trails from the Riverlife offices, instead of the windowless basement “office” that my husband and I are currently sharing in alternating shifts. Two adults working remotely with two small children and a puppy is a new practice in managed chaos. As I write this, our basement ceiling is pulsating with the sounds of Moana cosmic yoga as my five-year-old (and husband) practicing their “Maui poses.” I can hear my almost ten-year-old speaking way louder than necessary on a Google hangout with his friend (pretty sure they are supposed to be discussing a reading assignment, not Pokemon…). And I hear the puppy’s collar jingling as she runs between the two scenes punctuated by exasperated shouts of “Luna!” — interesting times, indeed.

When we wrap up our workday and “mommy school,” as our daughter calls it, we will go for our daily family walk. We will count all the rainbows that families hung in their windows for others to find, and we will admire all the chalk drawings and hopeful messages drawn along the path by our neighbors. This is one of my favorite things about our community: the way we continue to share beauty and hope together, but apart.

I hope we all hang on to that when we return to whatever normal looks like, in these interesting times.