Two Roads Diverged, and I Traveled Both

By: Rebecca Frager

I have had two very different career paths in my life.  The first is the one my father pushed me toward. The second is the one my ex-husband pushed me toward.  I often tell new friends that I have this life and a former life. But I have learned that life has a way of getting you where you are supposed to be. 

My father was worried about my future.  He wanted me to be able to take of myself, and so he pushed me toward the medical field.  This was in the mid-’70s and, at 45 years of age, my father was preparing for a kidney transplant.  For years, he had fought kidney disease, heart disease and high blood pressure, and this was his last option.  He had gotten strep as a young boy, and the disease infected his kidneys.  For a time, he was healthy, but as he entered his 30s, the damage to his kidneys caught up with him, and he was facing a risky operation.  The No. 1 concern in his life was the future of his children.  The boys were heading toward the military, so they were set.  But his daughter also needed a secure future, and based on his experience of spending so much of his life inside hospitals and doctors’ offices, he was certain that the health care field would mean I’d always have a job.

I, on the other hand, wanted to be an English teacher.  But the mid-’70s were bleak for teachers.  They were getting bad press, such as reports saying the lowest achievers in colleges were going into teaching.  Elementary schools were closing and being converted into banks or apartment buildings.  My father, who had been a teacher for years, nixed the teaching idea.  He had already spoken with the director of Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology, a program through Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.  All I had to do was fill out the application and I was in, training to become a radiologic technologist. 

While the work was interesting – I did love anatomy and physiology – the hours were long, and the work was physical.  I rotated through various areas within the field of radiology and decided that I really loved gastrointestinal work.  That’s right, the alimentary tract and all things digestion.  My days were filled with upper and lower GI exams, gallbladder studies, small bowel studies and the new field of computerized tomography.  I measured the hours by how many gallbladders were left to X-ray or how many enemas were coming for the afternoon. I worked in an environment that, though fascinating, could be dehumanizing.  You weren’t a person; you were an exam to get done. Beside working a regular 8-4 shift, I was on call every other weekend and at least several times a month had to rotate an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift.  I would go home exhausted. 

Then the children started coming. Three of them.  I got burnt out working at a job I really didn’t like.  I now had three children who needed the best of me, and I couldn’t give them my best. I was just too tired.  So I quit.  I became a full-time mom for several years.  I immersed myself in motherhood.  It was the most wonderful time in my life.  I homeschooled my children through the eighth grade. 

Eventually, we were finished with the homeschooling experience, and my three entered high school. I had begun teaching piano and had 20 to 30 students each week.  Many of these students were other homeschooled children, some were neighborhood children, and others came to me by word of mouth.

But I wanted to do more than teach piano. During my homeschooling years, we had visited the library at least twice a week, and I became friends with the library staff.  Each time we visited, I would let the director know how the library would be a perfect fit for me.  She would tell me they didn’t have any openings, but when they did, she would let me know.  I was persistent in my requests for a job, and I think I finally wore her down. I was hired as an “after-school” instructor to teach internet skills, provide homework help, proctor tests and answer reference questions, among many other library-related jobs. 

Throughout all these years, my husband and father of my children was busy supporting us.  He wasn’t involved in the day-to-day work of child-rearing or even their education, but I do appreciate how he was a financial support to us.  I will never regret that I was able to spend the time I did with my children.  I always felt that being able to do the things I did was a luxury.

He was also happy with the homeschooling efforts and the freedom it afforded him. He was running a business with his family. He was also running around.  With women. Many women. Altogether, over 50.  Most of them paid for.  And I was too involved in being a mother and raising the children to know. In a single moment of discovery, confrontation, and confession, my life as I knew it ended, and I felt like a fool.  His behavior put our children in a tailspin of anger, depression, and drug abuse.  I knew I had to survive this time – not just for myself, but also for my children – who were now mostly grown.  I had a job at the library.  I had piano students. But it wasn’t enough.  I was being lead in a new direction.

I won’t go into the mess of the divorce process – and it was messy – but I was able to go back to school full time.  He tried to tell me I didn’t need to go to school, that I could go back to being a radiology tech.  I told him no.  I was going to do what I had always wanted to do. 

I went back to school.  Started at ground zero at Boise State. Finished my English lit/secondary ed degree five years later at UMBC.  Got a job as a high school librarian.  Got my master’s in instructional technology with an endorsement in library media.  You might wonder how I went from Boise State to UMBC – it was pure love and a second marriage.  You might wonder how I went from anatomy and physiology to working in a high school library – it was pure love and a second career.

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