You might be wondering how we came up with a name like The Totebag.
A few years ago, Emily Bazelon wrote this piece for Slate Magazine about launching a backlash against lavish children’s birthday parties. Instead of having guests bring gifts for her son’s third birthday party, she arranged a book swap. It became a tradition in their family, fitting nicely within their portfolio of what she called “core Spartan practices that we have adopted and acquired an undeserved sense of moral superiority about.”
Years later, when her son rebelled against the tradition, Emily wrote about the practice again:
My husband, Paul, and I started the book swap when Eli was 3. He recently turned 10, and Simon will be 7 next month. Over the years, the kids have not exactly embraced the book swap. Nor do they tolerate it as a mildly irritating but harmless parental quirk. They hate it. Every year their protests grow louder. The hard part for them is articulating why. They are old enough to know that greed is a hard position to defend. So they’ve taken another tactic. They just don’t want to be “different,” they say. Why, oh why, are we making them stand out this way?
The hard part for us has become: What’s the answer? Have we staked out this bit of moralistic turf because somehow it represents our family values in a way that nothing else quite does? Are we trying to open our kids’ minds to nonconformity? Is that a worthy goal, and is this a good way to pursue it?
Drama subsided into anticlimax. At the party, we did the book swap. Eli said not one more word about it, either of protest or acceptance. When we gave the books out, as far as I could tell, the kids took them happily enough and without mocking Eli for his family’s tote-bag ways.
Tucker, a regular at the old place, picked up on her reference to their “tote-bag ways” during a discussion of our own about kids’ birthday parties, stating:
I thought it was a capital phrase. Tote bags, first of all, are often given as tokens of appreciation for donors to various charities and non-profits, popularly NPR, with the key feature being the ability of the bag’s owner to casually display his act of charity. Additionally, for women, they say “I’m not concerned about carrying a stylish or expensive bag, I’m above that.” Furthermore, they’re often the bag of choice to convey numerous library books–especially when kids are involved, and library books are something that this demographic just can’t get enough of.
And that’s how our running reference to “totebag values” was born. It’s a phrase the represents a mostly fake, post-consumerism, holier-than-thou standpoint on a range of issues. When we smell canvas, we call it out and discuss it. Are they your real values, or are you tote-bagging? Is there a real benefit to your point of view, or are you doing it for show?
The fun part is, we’re all guilty of it, at least to some extent, and that’s what makes the conversation interesting. As Portia said, “Part of the charm of the group is that although every one of us gets on a hobby horse now and then, usually we are self aware and bit self deprecating.”
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Tote·bag·ger noun \ˈtōt-bag-gər\ : A socially liberal and often economically conservative person who is typical of consumers of NPR, The New York Times, and The Economist Magazine.
(Special thanks to Upstate NY Dad, Tucker, Portia, Hour From Nowhere, and saacnmama for contributing to this page!)