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…


Oh, you guys….I am struggling to hit “publish”. Have been for weeks. We are back from our Cuba trip. I started writing about it…and I just can’t seem to find the right rhythm to publish it. I have other posts in the works too, just ideas really at this point. I am struggling to share, and I’m not sure why.

I’m blocked, figuratively speaking of course.

Maybe I’m grieving.

It isn’t like I don’t have plenty to say…  Oh no! I have plenty to say. The thing is if I were to write, like I’m daring to do now, I’d be in danger of sharing the rantings of a lunatic woman SQUARELY in the middle – or maybe it’s really the start – of a mid-life crisis.

This is so not cool. So-not-living-up-to-the-blog-name at the moment!  Sigh…

Mid-life crisis? Really? Me?

I don’t wanna have a mid-life crisis! I want to be who I dreamed I would be when I was younger: confident, successful, articulate, graceful, beautiful, and loved.

Incidentally I just now realized how I never really imagined myself as a giver when I had those teenage visions. Being a kind and giving person is the goal I should have been striving for. If it was, maybe I wouldn’t be having the crisis I am right now. But back then I was relatively kind..maybe I didn’t feel the need to envision something I had to start with. I wish I had….so I could remain a kind person. I’ve let that slip, big time. I mean, I realize just how ridiculous this entire post is. Be kind, be giving….that should be the end of the story. But those other things? I had serious work to do to cultivate those traits as I started with nothing. That’s what I was shooting for.

It’s embarrassing to admit all of this but that’s where my head is today.

My brain is so wildly all over the place as of late. Part of me shies away from posting because of what you all will think. I have a tendency to tell real-life stories involving real life people. I don’t make up names to protect the innocent; I just avoid using names. I should seriously consider creating some aliases for the people in my stories.

You see, I have a strong need to write a memoir. There is virtually no one who appears in all scenes of my life…my siblings are at least a decade older than me and we’re wildly different. We love one another but we’re not close…they don’t know what makes me tick, what has brought me joy and sorrow. And neither have they shared that with me over the years. And I have asked….but they are far more private than I am. It’s kinda like being an only child except you’re not, which is almost worse. People know you have siblings and assume you’re close.

Back to the memoir: regarding the cast of characters in my life, I’ve had several dramatic exits over the years, if you will. More than a few deaths, one devastating car accident, and a few marriages (not mine) and moves that closed off some relationships for good. If I don’t write these stories down, no one will ever know. I’d like to think maybe my kids will be curious about my life one day – curious to understand what made me tick and guide them they way I have – but I suspect that day will come when I am no longer here to ask. And when they have those questions, they won’t have the complete picture on account of those dramatic exits. They won’t know what has shaped me and how, because it just isn’t the sort of stuff of every day conversation. They won’t know the toughest lessons I have ever had to learn.

How many deaths? Well, we had a memorial service for my family at church this past Sunday. Granted, a few names were part of my husband’s family but I gave the priest a list of 45 names. 45 people who have passed! I knew well over half of them. All were family, all are gone, and I knew well over half of them.

Well, “knew” is a relative term. None of them really knew me, and I guess it’s fair to say the reverse it true too. After all, I was kid or young adult when those I knew passed, and they weren’t about to open up to me, their youngest niece. Let’s put it this way….we rode the train of life together for a little while but the conversation was more like every day pleasantries. Small talk.

Needless to say, there’s a place for small talk but that’s not my thing. I need to talk about life…make sense of things. I need wisdom. I feel like I’ve got nothing…just what’s in my head and I don’t trust it lately.

I just broke down Sunday, sobbing over the enormity of the loss. Some days all I feel is the loss and it makes me cry.  Why does it feel like none of the latter relationships in my life have nearly the same significance as these ones in the beginning? Is this normal? But then I realize that crying makes me my mother, and I work hard to snap out of it.

And lately, regarding my brain? The regrets…oh, the regrets are strong today. Time is ticking by, baby. Part of me wants to make amends, make peace with people who are still living that I may not have treated so fairly or appreciated nearly enough when they were an active part of my life. If only they knew what good humans they were and what a difference they made to little old me. I wasn’t a proper witness to their significance, importance, goodness, decency….once upon a time. It’s only when 30-40-some-odd years go by that I can see these things so very clearly.

Why do I feel like I’m dying that I need to make amends right this very instant? Is that normal? Why is this feeling overtaking me? It too reminds me of my mom….her last phone call, unbeknownst to her at the time, was to make amends to a high school advisor of mine. Is that why I’m freaking out? Am I doing the same thing here?

I don’t know why I wasn’t a proper witness to these good people. Teen me was self-centered and shallow-minded. In some cases I for sure felt inadequate, awkward. And in other cases, I assumed that most people were as good and decent and kind as the ones I left behind in pursuit of new experiences.

I was wrong on oh-so-many counts.

I have spent most of my life, SO MUCH TIME, looking for a spark, and even waiting for lightning to strike twice. The truth is, all I’ve ever been is a seeker. I keep looking for something better, wanting something more. I can’t separate how much of that is a healthy pursuit of excellence, personal growth, and self-actualization versus blind, gross, insatiable need. The truth is, I don’t know how to sit still and just be. It feels like I’m withering away, rusting, when I do that.

resa-cahya-369025-unsplashDon’t get me wrong…I am grateful for what I have. But why am I not satisfied with that? Why do I keep looking? Why don’t I spend my time polishing what’s before me? And by looking backward at past relationships, why am I like the retiree walking on the beach with a metal detector looking for something precious that has been buried? What good could possibly come from THAT?

When I’m feeling good, I’m forward looking, not beachcombing. I don’t want to be in this space… But the beach…the waves are my tears, washing precious objects ashore. And while the ocean is vast and the objects are small, they bring some joy when I find them…even if they’ve been lost in the waters for so very long and not something that I can incorporate actively into my life today. Maybe my beachcombing is to find shiny little happy things and reminisce for a short while.

Let me explain: about a week or two ago, I made a list of about 20 or so people who had the greatest positive impact on my life. I put them in a couple of different categories, ranging from no contact whatsoever in years to constant contact. Only my husband is in the latter category…very telling. I thought long and hard about how hard it has been for me to make friends ever since I moved back to Ohio even though that was 14 years ago, and how maybe my best bet at this point was to rekindle the relationships that were the most meaningful over the course of my life. Very few of the 20 have entered my life in the last 20 years. Very few.

I know don’t know what I expect to get out of this effort. I know darn well that some of these relationships can never be rekindled. My outreach would be viewed as odd, eccentric, unwelcome. Lightning, I’ve learned, does not strike twice. Whatever stupid action I may have taken to cause the relationship to fizzle is a done deal. “Things happen for a reason,” they say. I say they happen because sometimes I’ve been stupid and careless….

I suspect the only thing I can hope for is to share a word of kindness about how much these people meant to me, tell them that I will always wish them well (as I have every time I think of them), and that I regret that I ever lost touch in the first place.

Yet this whole exercise feels like a stupid, vulnerable thing to do. I will probably chicken out before I get through the list. I don’t have courage when it comes right down to it.

And I know life gets in the way and friendships exist sometimes only for a season due to no fault of anyone, but lately I am living with regrets about that.

I’m walking on the beach with my metal detector. It’s silly, I know, but for now but it gives me something to do.


Photo credit: Resa Cayha on
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