Stephanie Hayes sig

Rituals of aging degrade with each generation. For example, millennials are getting married and having kids later than their parents, due to, I am told, buying all that avocado. That’s a different essay.

Certain rites remain nonnegotiable, though. For example, adulthood means overseeing a drawer of plastic grocery bags. Even people who don’t really use plastic grocery bags have this drawer because we feel guilty throwing them out. We just keep stuffing them down until the drawer creaks and the bag edges stick out like squids falling off a boat.

The other lawless lovechild of age and wisdom is a closet of used gift bags. Alternatively, the user may store bags in a container under the bed or fold smaller gift bags inside ONE GIANT GIFT BAG. This is an advanced technique! The most noble warriors, and by this I mean Mothers of the Midwest Who Moved to Florida, have organized gift bags by size, color and occasion. A corresponding Sterilite box contains bows, ribbons, tape and scissors. The Sterilite is labeled.

Not me. My bag closet is Chaotic Neutral, gift bags sliding into towels, batteries, Easter baskets and Command strips missing the sticky part. But Bag Closet is busy right now. Bag Closet is the hottest club in Tampa Bay.

Summer is peak gift bag season in my family. From May to June, we celebrate my dad’s birthday, my husband’s birthday, my birthday, my stepdaughter’s birthday, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It’s like Gemini Christmas spread punishingly over weeks. No, none of us can afford it. Yes, we are interested in part-time work.

During one of our 17 celebrations, I uttered, “Do you think _____ will notice if we use the same bags her friends gave her yesterday?” Reader, she did not notice. Gift bag experts know why. The best gift bags are transferable, utilitarian and forgettable, like the music at Publix. The best bags don’t have messaging, but rather a subtle daisy motif, or, like, cerulean geometric shapes (no glitter, please). They bounce seamlessly from Uncle Roberto to Baby Betty, crinkling, crumpling, tearing, gazing wearily upon the vast barbecue horizon and proclaiming, “I was here.”

Oh, but gift bag people can specialize. Need a burlap wine bag that says MR. AND MRS.? Right this way! Need a #1 DAD bag with a 3D trophy? It is slightly bent in five places! Need a Santa bag that says “STEPH” in Sharpie because my parents don’t use gift tags? Please, come on down! Need a bag that says

HAPPY

BIRTH

DAY

because grammar is for textbooks and not gift bags? May I interest you in three?

There’s one way to tell if someone purchased a bag en route to an event: the tissue paper. If it is crisp and flat, the partygoer stopped at CVS. If the contents include Korean face masks, travel tweezers and a gift card to the Darden Restaurants group, the present is also from CVS.

Now, if the tissue paper looks like it has spent 12 years being chewed by an escaped hyena, and if the colors don’t quite match the bag, the wrapping hails from Bag Closet.

We mustn’t get cocky, though, for there is further bag work to do. We should look to my friend’s mom for bagspiration. Robin has been trading the same gift bag with a bowling alley buddy for 29 years. They call it Birthday Bag. It is covered inch-for-inch in bows and curly ribbons, and it is fused with duct tape. Birthday Bag will not fall.

HAPPY

BIRTH

DAY

INDEED

Stephanie Hayes is a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times.