I loved everything about elementary school: my teachers, learning to read, playing soccer at recess, gym class, music class, lunch time, and assemblies. The fact that my mom worked there as a lunch aide was just the cherry on top!
I went to Cessna Elementary School in South Wichita from the time I was in Kindergarten through 6th grade.
For seven years I completely loved my elementary school experience! I knew which teachers were the good teachers; I had the same janitor the entire time (the sawdust he used to sprinkle on spills before cleaning always fascinated me!); and it was like my second home.
I wasn’t the cutest or prettiest girl, and I wasn’t the smartest student, but I was confident and helpful and I enjoyed life.
I remember getting graham crackers and choosing white or chocolate milk in half-day Kindergarten, and laying my mat on the floor to take a nap after our snack.
I remember sitting still in 1st grade while the teacher drew the profile of my face onto a piece of black construction paper by putting a light on one side of me and then drawing my profile from the shadow.
In the second grade, I think it was, we were given a reward movie with popcorn in the gym as a special assembly and watched Flipper! So fun!
In the third grade I hit some rocky waters.
We had a multi-grade class, an experiment, with 3rd and 4th graders in it. We started learning cursive and they focused on handwriting more. I have terrible handwriting, still do, and would always get a “C,” no matter how hard I concentrated.
My friend Rhonda wanted to be a teacher and became a teacher!
Her cursive was perfect! She always earned “A’s” in handwriting. It never seemed fair to me. After all, didn’t God give me this particular handwriting style?!
I got in trouble from my teacher once when I didn’t hear her tell us not to get up from our desks. I was reading and missed her directions. I got up to sharpen my pencil and, man, she lit into me! I had to write sentences and everything.
I found out years later from my mom that she was going through a divorce that year.
In 4th grade I stayed in that same multi-grade classroom. I started a group called “Charlie’s Angels.” Three of my friends and I were in this “club” and would tell stories and have fun passing notes. Three of us rode the bus together and could extend our time on the bus “solving” mysteries.
I still didn’t care for the female teacher, but now I was in the higher grade for this class and had this club that I loved, so it was better. I had male teachers in 5th and 6th grade, and I loved their laid back approach to teaching.
I’m not sure how my teachers would have categorized me. Probably as confident, as a good student and hard worker. I had a lot of friends, and when I look back, elementary school was fun and easy for me. I really liked it.
I’ve always loved to read and write, the main foundation for school, right?
I wasn’t the smartest in my class, but I got good grades and studied when I needed to.
I have always loved music and learned to play the piano really young, plus we always sang at church, so I excelled in music and was always picked for parts in any musicals or plays.
I also matured early and grew pretty much as tall as I am right now, about 5’6’’, by the time I was in the 5th grade, and I was a good athlete.
I was always a team captain or chosen quickly to be on a team in gym. Remember playing dodge ball? And rolling around on the square rollers? I loved it all!
Mostly we played soccer and more soccer, which was fine with me! My gym teacher, Larry Stockton, was from London, and he was determined to pass his love for soccer on to us and to Wichita.
I always came in from gym or recess after playing soccer with a red face and ready to get in line for a drink at the drinking fountain!
I earned three physical fitness patches in my 4th, 5th, and 6th grade years in gym class. Did you have to take those national tests where you do pull ups and sit ups and run the 600-yard dash? (Is this really, technically, a “dash”?)
I think there were 6 different criteria you had to perform within a certain time. I passed all of the national standards three years in a row. They made a really big deal about it, and I think there were three of us in the whole school who earned it. The other two were boys.
I say all of this to set up the foundation for my story and just to explain to you why the 6th grade awards ceremony highlighted my entire elementary school experience and was so fun for me.
Two weeks before that night I had a piano recital, and my mom took me to buy a new dress for the recital. This was a big deal for me!
It was red, and I loved it!
I also wore it to the awards ceremony, held on a weeknight, a special event to honor the 6th graders as they move on to go to junior high.
I remember getting ready for the ceremony by taking a bath, curling my hair, and putting on my red dress to go to school. It felt weird to go to school when it was dark outside, but I was excited.
All of my family came, too. For each category they would give certificates and call out our names for us to come forward and be recognized. Afterward we had cookies and punch and everyone congratulated us on our achievements.
When you’re in the 6th grade and you’ve gone to the same school for 7 years and lived in the same neighborhood your entire life, everyone knows you! It was fun to see all my teachers and my principal and my family there. I was literally on top of the world in my short life.
Can I just say, I loved that night?! It was the pinnacle of my elementary school years, and I loved everything about it. I was genuinely happy.
When I look at this picture of me in my red dress, all the memories of that night and elementary school come flooding back. Me and Rhonda and Sundi and Shelly in Charlie’s Angels, choir concerts, plays, standardized tests, birthday celebrations with homemade cupcakes and plastic decorations my mom made and brought with her when she came to work, and making princess “crowns” out of dandelions with my friends at recess.
I had loved Cessna and it had loved me. My smile is genuine. Nobody coached me and told me to extend my arms like this in celebration. This was WAY before iPhones were pulled out every day and pictures and videos were a regular thing.
No, this was how I felt: joyful; and I expressed myself just the way I felt: happy and confident.
I look back at this younger version of myself and would love to coach her a little about her future– okay, coach her A LOT, about decisions she will be making, especially in her sophomore year in high school.
If only I could have held on to the sheer happiness in that moment at the end of 6th grade. But life doesn’t work that way.
I would love to tell her not to let any person steal her confidence and joy or judge her, convincing her to buy into the lie that the size of her thighs will determine how much someone likes her, especially for one person: herself.
Undercurrents from generational issues created more of my emotional foundation than I realized back then in the 6th grade. The trigger was waiting to be pulled. The gun was cocked.
At that time, everything seemed fine, and it was fine, I guess, for the moment.
But, fast forward three years to a new high school where a perfect storm would begin to brew: puberty combined with four accelerated classes where almost nobody knew me; and, unfortunately, I began to lose my identity and was completely unprepared for how to behave and handle the feelings I had and the situations I experienced.
Who was I? But that is a story for another blog about my story.
If I could go back to that night in 6th grade when I wore the red dress, what would I tell myself? What would I say to myself if I could begin to prepare my young 6th grade heart for the turbulent waters awaiting me in high school?
Here are six points I would tell my younger, 6th grade self:
- Your identity cannot come from other people. It must always come from within yourself. Be aware of how you feel about yourself independent from compliments, achievements, performances, perfection, and awards. Don’t rely on other people to tell you who you are. They don’t really know. They are too busy trying to figure out their own lives.
- Your true identity comes from one person alone: God. He is the one who made you. Until you really know this in your mind and heart you will be drawn to believe lies from other people and from your own heart. God knows your unique talents that were given just to you. Find out what these are and use them to help other people. This will bring you true confidence, peace, and joy. Spend time reading the Bible to find out who God says you are to him. You are his beloved daughter. His banner over you is love. Find special verses in the Bible that mean something to you and memorize them. Fill your heart with God’s love for you.
- In a few years, your body will completely change. It is a beautiful and normal part of growing older. Someday you will get married and have babies. Your body will be preparing for a husband and babies to come into your life by growing and changing. If you get married, you will have SO MUCH JOY when you are married and enjoying intimacy in the protection of marriage with your husband. If you have children, you will have SO MUCH JOY when the doctor casts a baby up on your chest and you snuggle it in your arms and kiss it with your lips and allow your heart to bond with your little one. Culture is cynical and the enemy is a liar. He would have you to believe that there is only one way to be “sexy” or “attractive” and that is by being thin. Being thin is fine, but it is not the only way. Your future husband, your children, and your true family and friends will love you regardless of a number on a scale or the size of your body or your clothes. Love God and accept yourself first and then accept other people and everything else will fall into place.
- What you think about will become your future, so be careful what you allow your mind to dwell on. What you sow you will also reap, even in your thought life. For this reason, focus on lovely, praiseworthy, kind, and good thoughts–even about yourself. Especially about yourself. Gain self-control over your mind. When bad thoughts creep in, tell them to cut it out and leave! Tell the negativity that you are a positive person and only listen to positive thoughts and ideas. If you are serious, the bad thoughts will leave. Learn to discern when a thought is healthy or destructive. Become aware of the state of your heart and mind in order to control it. Take control of destructive thoughts and don’t allow them to stay. You can control your mind. Also, if you want real friends, be a true friend. Sow friendship and kindness and you will reap it. This is really what you did in elementary school for 7 years, you just didn’t know it.
- If you only think about yourself, you will become more selfish. It is a dangerous cycle, and if you’re not careful, your entire personality will become wrapped up in navel gazing ugliness. Again, become aware of selfish thoughts and choose to turn your thoughts to someone else’s well being. Choose a better way.
- Focus on things you enjoy and on other people. Focus on seeing and loving those around you. Let God show you who you are. Be with friends who love you for who you are right now. Be yourself while putting your attention on other people. Take one day at a time and enjoy the moment you are in right now. God is with you and if you seek him you will find him when you seek him with all your heart; and, with him by your side, you can face anything.
While gathering pictures for this blog I found a bunch of old, old papers my mom had given me years ago when she cleaned out a closet that were mine from elementary school. When she gave them to me I never looked at them. I put them in a box with some of my old toys and clothes.
Today I found that box while looking for some old pictures for this blog. I opened an envelope and was surprised to see a card with a yellow butterfly on it.
When I opened it I discovered it was from Vacation Bible School for “regular attendance and faithful work.”
The image of the yellow butterfly was not lost on me.
Did God not know in 1973 that I would be writing a blog called Yellow Butterfly in 2019 and would experience this reminder of his goodness and faithfulness to me when I opened the envelope and saw this picture? Yes, he knew. And he knows exactly what you are going through right now, too.
I also found the Holy Bible I used to read during elementary school. I had forgotten about it until I saw it. I remember making commitments to read through certain books of the Bible and studying them. For all I know, the seeking I did during that time would end up saving my life.
For now, in this moment looking back, it is fun for me to look at my 6th grade self in my red dress with my smile and my confidence and remember all the good memories.
Sometime I’ll tell you my story about junior high school. . . .
God is good. He’s always listening. He’s always loving me and you. He hears our cries and knows our needs before we ask. Remember, you are dazzling!
Stacey D. Wheeler