No Shade, No Tea

thomas-kolnowski-780791-unsplashLast week our elementary school hosted parent-teacher conferences so I dutifully reported in the evening to get the scoop on our youngest two kids.

Our daughter is now an “upper classman” as a 5th grader. It seems like every year, I’m surprised by what the kids are learning as I just don’t remember all of those sophisticated learning objectives being shared with us when we were kids in the same grades. We just absorbed whatever was taught by rote. I don’t recall us learning strategies or reasons why the subject matter was important. Color me impressed.

For the record, my husband normally attends these conferences with me, but one of his music gigs got rescheduled for the same night so he had to bail this year. The conversations with the teachers would have been much more interesting, as you’ll see!

The 5th grade teacher shared our daughter’s self-assessment with me. A self-assessment! In 5th grade? Get out!

The first thing that struck me is how very self-aware our daughter is. She seemed to understand exactly how she was doing in each of her subjects, and what she could do physically to prepare herself better for school.  More sleep and better nutrition was her response.  Her dad and I talk with all the kids about the importance of a protein breakfast to start the day off the right way, and there she was acknowledging it was important.

Mrs. T, her teacher, noticed that our daughter is a little hard on herself. I sheepishly acknowledged she got that from me.

There’s just no escaping the things you need to work on in your own life. If you don’t work through them on your own, you just might give birth to them, to relive all over again. Maybe that’s what they really mean by reincarnation. But I digress…

Her teacher asked an open-ended question at the end of the self-assessment: “Is there anything else I need to know?” to which our daughter responded,

“No shade, no tea, but I think we need to talk about friendships at school. No one in particular, but it can distract from my schoolwork.”

Mrs. T looked at me to decode what it meant, not so much the dynamics of 5th grade with hormones a-blooming everywhere and all, because we all know to expect with those, but the “no shade, no tea” part.

I was as perplexed as she was. Now, Mrs. T’s gotta be at least 10 years younger than me, so I figured she was in the know, way better than I am. But here she was, genuinely asking me for the scoop.

Part of me wondered if it was a test. Ok, maybe I had a smidge of paranoia creeping in, but I brushed it off.

I had to admit I didn’t know. So I went all “Indiana Jones” and tried to be a linguistic archeologist about it:

“Well, ‘no shade’, I think means no disrespect…no talking smack, in other words. But the ‘no tea’ part? Where did she get that? I’ve never heard her say it at home and we don’t say it. You really got me! But you know who would know? My husband! He knows all the teen lingo.”

It’s true. Although my husband is a musician, he teaches percussion privately to students of all ages. He’s also on staff with three school districts, teaching and advising the percussion students in the music department. Allow me to translate: this means he is on staff for marching band season and I don’t really see him but one day a week from early July through early November. He is surrounded by teens for days and weeks on end and subsequently HEARS. IT. ALL.  For at least the last 17 years, he has.

I would bestow an honorary teen psychology degree on him, if I could, with a certification as a skilled linguist in teenspeak, to boot.

No lie, I would use random words in daily conversation with him, and he’d jerk upright, stop what he was doing and stare at me all wide-eyed to say, “You can’t use that word anymore!” And I’d look at him all skeptical and wide-eyed in return, totally disbelieving him and exasperated that yet another precious word was now off-limits. This would go back and forth a few rounds until he’d coach me to look up said word on Urban Dictionary. You’d find little old sheltered me slack-jawed and horrified at how language has been hijacked for nefarious means.*. Sometimes I hate talking to him because I learn stuff I don’t want to.

Genuinely curious, I got home after the conference and promptly Googled my daughter’s slang and here’s what popped up:

The slang expression “No Tea, No Shade,” meaning “No disrespect, but …” is common in the drag community, where T means “truth.” The related phrase “All Tea, All Shade,” means “This statement is true, so I don’t care if it offends you or not.”May 20, 2016
A Way with Words | No Tea, No Shade

I dug a bit further. Apparently, the T in “tea” is frequently mistaken for truth, but it is really is “tea”. It’s a reference to ladies in the Old South who would sit around, sipping iced tea and gossip. I feel like whomever coined this phrase nailed it. I can totally see that happening! So I took our daughter’s words to mean, “no disrespect and no gossip, but here’s what’s really going on.”

Part of me smiled that my daughter was strong yet wise enough to confess the real scoop at school without throwing anyone under the bus, so speak.

I wrote to Mrs. T and told her what this fancy new lingo meant and even explained that, um…we don’t really have an association with the drag queen community so I am just as intrigued if not a smidge confounded (alarmed? Is alarmed the word I’m searching for, haha?) how in the world our 10-year-old girl heard this phrase. Not that there’s anything wrong with the drag queen community. I’m just sitting here in small-town Ohio trying to piece this together.

Then it hit me: our 5th grader is a huge fan of YouTube star and 19-year-old makeup artist extraordinaire James Charles. Yes, a guy who wears makeup. I assume he says “No shade, no tea” a lot. I could be wrong, but the logic is coming together like the stars in a constellation, baby. Close enough for me.

And for a brief moment, I wonder if we need to put some parental controls on YouTube, but really…James Charles is fine. Frankly, I could learn a tip or two from him. He’s actually pretty good with brushes on a human canvas.

Back to our daughter. I’m tickled she found a clever way to make her point.

But I’m also proud of her for noticing that the friendship dynamics at school can cause some drama, and it’s distracting from what she ought to be focused on. And she’s not calling anyone out in particular, but she’s AWARE that social dynamics are starting to be an issue she needs to resolve. Mrs. T affirmed that our girl really does try to be friends with everyone but the dynamics of the various friendships in 5th grade are getting frenzied, shall we say.

Now, we parents discuss friendship drama with our 5th grader, you know: who’s friends with who, who’s feeling jealous and why, how to include people so they don’t feel left out, how not to feed the drama dragon, how to talk directly to a person with whom you are having an issue so you can work things out instead of avoiding it, etc.

I might even go so far as to one-up the phrase and say “no shade, no tea, no Oscar” as a motto for how to manage friendships in these preteen and junior high years: no disrespect, no gossip, and for heavens’ sake, no drama either!

I don’t have quite the same reach as James Charles, so hard to say whether my little turn of phrase will take flight but you heard it here first.

Three cheers to all the 5th grade girls and their awesome teachers who battle raging hormones daily, year after year.

Photo credit: Thomas Kolnowski on
* Don’t believe me? Look up “taint” in Urban Dictionary if you’re brave enough, and you’ll see what I mean. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. And no….I honestly didn’t know there was an alternative meaning. I grew up sheltered and sweet so I’m just sitting here shaking my head, resigned over the death of my innocence. Then again, I’d much rather be in the know…

National Daughter’s Day?

Facebook tells me that today, September 25, is National Daughter’s Day.

And my first reaction was, “Wait – this is a thing? Or is this just a Facebook holiday, kinda like a Hallmark holiday, but completely viral and fake?”

I hate being duped – HATE IT – so of course, I had to look into it so I wouldn’t fall victim to a completely fake guilt trip, the kind where I feel compelled to pour online praise over the existence my one and only precious daughter.

She is pretty awesome, by the way. I am in awe of her confidence, grace, poise, and smarts at age 10. I’m virtually certain I still had to be coached to comb my hair at her age. It might even be fair to say she’s more put together at 10 than I was at 20. But I digress…

Turns out National Daughter’s Day is legitimate. According to the Times of India, there’s actually a holiday designed to commemorate daughters because of cultural stigmas associated with having a daughter instead of a son. Apparently it’s celebrated on the 4th Sunday of September, so I’m off by a couple of days but still.

This whole thing buzzes the bee in my feminist bonnet. I work hard to respect cultural and religious differences but there comes a point where I draw the line. This myth that somehow women and girls are inferior to men and boys is one of the places where I draw it.

Really? It takes men and women to perpetuate the human species. One isn’t more important than the other. We are separate but equal. That’s what feminism is all about, and I’m a proud feminist. My husband is too. He gets it and we’re raising our boys with this in mind.

It makes me incredibly sad that it’s 2018 and there are still places in the world that need to call attention to this. But who am I kidding? It’s 2018 and America has a #metoo movement going on and a national outcry over a Supreme Court nominee who allegedly assaulted a teenage girl when he himself was a teen because, well, he could.

Don’t get me started on the president, either. That would be its own essay. A book, even.

A few years ago I had a new employee, a young woman, on my work team. She was a first generation American who grew up in northeast Ohio in what sounded like a very traditional, patriarchal home. I remember the first day we had snowfall for the winter marcio-marim-660968-unsplashseason and she called me to say she couldn’t make it into work. She was 22 and apparently she hadn’t really ever driven in the snow.

I found that tough to believe but there she was, pleading with me or quite possibly testing me. It was hard to know which, to be honest.

Maybe you don’t know northeast Ohio but it snows here. We’re not too far from Lake Erie, so it can snow a lot. And yet there she was, 22, with a professional job, calling me to explain she couldn’t come to work when nearly 3000-4000 other employees were already on-site.

I had to explain expectations that the first normal snowfall of the year was not a legitimate reason to skip work. I wondered why in the world her family hadn’t already explained something like this to her. Was she messing with me or was she coddled? Was she taught to fend for herself or did she need to be rescued? I tried hard not to think about how her situation presented itself to me, her supervisor, but I couldn’t help but wonder – I mean, jaw agog – how she got to be 22 and relatively helpless.

God help me if I raise my daughter that same way. I mean, at least this young lady was valued and not abandoned by her family. And isn’t that what National Daughter’s Day is trying to reverse? Years of cultural shame and stigma for having a girl?

j-w-675134-unsplashStill, it makes me wonder what good can I do in my little corner of the world when it comes to recognizing the value of the young girls we raise into women. I don’t know that I have all the answers here but we will continue to raise our precious daughter to pursue her education and interests, take full care and responsibility for herself, and to recognize the people and situations that stack the cards for and against her because, of course, that will happen.

The difference is, we’ll be in her corner the entire time, with every step she takes. We will help her thrive.

I wish that for every daughter in the world.


Photo credits, in order of appearance: Marcio Marim and j-w on Unsplash.