About The Name

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.”

We hope you enjoy what you read here, and if you do, we hope you’ll consider contributing!

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!)

25 thoughts on “About The Name

  1. I found this. I doubt it’s what Tucker said, but it struck a chord with me:

    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.

  2. I thought it was A son who coined it, claiming that we jugglers just needed a totebag with something about we suck all the cheesy fun out of life?

  3. My recollection is the same as Lark’s. So, who else has gotten some chiding from a spouse about the “renegade” blog we’ve started? DH was shaking his head about it last night.

  4. My husband commented, “Uh, this is quite a homework assignment they’ve given you,” after I spent the evening working on my maiden post. (And answering questions from a 7 year old about the characters in PS 238.)

  5. It was a blog Tucker found somewhere else, where the woman was describing a birthday party for her kid where they had everyone bring a book to donate to some worthy cause instead of a present for the birthday boy or girl (I think). I just tried searching for the original, didn’t find it; we’ve been using that term way longer than I realized!

  6. I’ve lurked without posting for a long time, but couldn’t resist sharing my triumph in finding what I think is the original definition of totebag values, posted by Tucker May 18, 2011:
    Tucker wrote :

    Houston –
    We were discussing kids’ birthday parties, and I linked a series of Slate articles from a few years ago by that publication’s Emily Bazelon about her experience forbidding her sons from receiving any presents from the attendees of their birthday parties. In the article, she wondered “Am I just imposing my own tote bag values on him?”

    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.

    I’m not sure what else makes the phrase such a perfect fit, but that’s a start.

  7. WFI – You know what would be great? We should invite Ms. Bazelon to comment here, or even write a topic.

  8. Well done everyone!!!! WFI, I love your writing – you really captured what it means, which can be hard when the short-handed reference has become so pervasive and understood.

  9. Will A son/Todd continue his tradition of handing out virtual totebags for deserving posts?

  10. Thank you, Lark! It took a long time for me to get up the nerve to post…. maybe it won’t be so hard the second time.

  11. Lark,

    To paraphrase H.L. Menkin “Totebaggery: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time.”

    That’s why they’d say something like, “We don’t do Disney.” They can’t just embrace it in all it’s glorious commercialism. No, must take the kids instead to the yarn museum, for a symposium on spinning wheels.

  12. “socially liberal and often economically conservative person”

    Doesn’t that describe a libertarian?

  13. Laura, Upstate should be added to the credits above.

    Upstate, did you really *find* this published somewhere, or did you write it?

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