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…

Author: silonda

I'm not your average Midwestern American woman: an older mom to three kids and married to a musician, hiding out in a small town. I’ve worked as a serious business professional my entire adult life but my soul is really an artist. Wonderlust (i.e., insatiable curiosity) and wanderlust lead me to read voraciously and travel often. The introvert in me likes to quietly observe and share what I discover through writing but buried inside is a pretty funny chick full of spunk and verve who is eager to come out and play. Deep thinking and feeling (all the feels) is my default mode and then I'll crack a joke about it. I’m constantly striving to cultivate whatever makes for beautiful and to love UP.

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