Baby v. House: Which Comes With The Better Stuff?

by Bethlehem Shoals and Brian Phillips

Bethlehem Shoals, who rents a one-bedroom basement in Seattle, is expecting a baby in September. Brian Phillips, who is as childless as failed royalty, recently moved with his wife to a small town in Pennsylvania, bought an old Victorian house and started renovating it. For both of us, these changes have meant a sort of crash-course introduction to consumer adulthood: We both find ourselves with a lot of new gear, all of it pretty specific to having either a baby or a house. Whose gear is more mystifying? In the spirit of major-life-event showdown, here we each offer three objects for the other’s review.

HOUSE OBJECT: Heat Gun, $79

Brian: This is a terrible implement, forged in hell, that blasts 1100° air on paint you need to strip. It looks like a hair dryer, but would melt the scalp of any sitcom character who made that mistake.

Shoals: I can’t decide if it sounds like something out of Kirby-era Marvel Comics, a prop from Criminal Minds or a highly collectible Baton Rouge funk record. But this made me really jealous when we first started talking about this stuff on the phone. It also couldn’t be further from my needs at the moment. I can’t imagine needing that kind of weapon with a baby around (nor can I see needing a geriatric funk band, for that matter). But we never discussed the actual temperature. I’m dumbfounded. Do things even get that hot on the Earth’s surface?

Brian: It’s a Venus heat. It’s indescribable. And we don’t have air conditioning yet, so the room quickly warms up to, I’m guessing, around 700°. But paint is basically tank armor. It’s part of the painted thing’s essence. Getting it off requires temperatures that actually become philosophical. Fortunately, this thing and I have worked out a Frodo/Gollum relationship: I know that it could kill me at any moment, but I need it to help me eliminate the dark power that threatens to destroy my world (unsightly wall coloring).

BABY OBJECT: BOB off-road performance stroller, $260 (marked down from $450)

Shoals: This was picked up from the bike section of REI; it features “state-of-the-art suspension” and a really creepy name for a Northwest staple. The major decision: Go with the hand-break, or the front wheel that pivots like those on a grocery cart?

Brian: A baby is, what, the size of a loaf of bread? It’s incredible how often I manage to get bread from the grocery store to my car without needing a $260 carrying device. Also, shouldn’t babies mainly stick to roads? I guess the state-of-the-art suspension will come in handy when you’re crossing the Tacoma mudflats with your baby?

Shoals: I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to have a baby here and not own one of these. They’re pure Seattle: outdoorsy, overly-cautious, and silently judgmental. All snark aside, though, we kind of had to get one of these, albeit for totally Seattle reaons. The neighborhood we live is made up almost entirely of retired ski slopes and wannabe trailheads. There’s a pretty good chance that the stroller will have to slow down suddenly, deal with uneven terrain, or protect our child in the inevitable event of a blow-out or loss of control. Also, coyotes.

HOUSE OBJECT: Bolt cutters, $20

Brian: These are curved, long-handled shears that cut rusted bolts. In movies, they’re exclusively used to snip through chain-link fences during heist-initiation sequences. Before I bought a house, I thought they only belonged to criminals — and maybe also the Fantastic Mr. Fox?

Shoals: Given how tough, and small, bolts are, this seems like a bargain. Don’t the Jaws of Life have their own theme music and tour Southern states on off-days? I’m worried that you’re getting all these implements of destruction, and I’m all about protection and comfort of another. What if I start hugging strangers and you kill a cat? I’m beginning to understand why houses and babies are supposed to happen in tandem, and why this conversation may be all that’s keeping the two of us sane. I give to the world, you destroy.

Brian: It’s impossible to exaggerate the extent to which renovating a house messes with your understanding of punk rock. I spend all day hitting the high notes of disaffected 1970s teenagerdom — sniffing glue, inhaling paint fumes, wielding a crowbar in anger — and yet for all that it feels insurrectionary, I might as well be wearing pleated shorts. Who knew you could use bolt cutters to make property values go up? This is how Johnny Ramone wound up in the National Rifle Association. But sometimes you have to cut a bolt, even if you feel like the ING guy is about to “ask for your number.”

BABY OBJECT: Bam Crib Set, by Argington® Modern Children’s Furniture™, $585

Shoals: Bassinet to crib to bed sleeping device from a boutique-y line run by two Bed-Stuy parents with background in fine art and architecture. We somehow convinced my father and stepmother that it was a good long-term investment.

Brian: I think you told me about this crib before, and I’ve made my peace with it. No one should leave their baby on the floor all night, so it’s good that you’ve got a place to put yours right from the start. Also, from what I’ve seen of babies, they spend a lot of time lying down, so you want them to be comfortable. Thus the price point, I guess? I question “a unique six-point leg design” that increases “the safety and strength of the crib,” though. I mean, babies are pretty light, aren’t they? Four legs is enough for a baby. Still, this makes sense to me, I think.

Shoals It really shouldn’t. This is the most versatile conversion thingy, but hardly the only one, and I think you have to drop another $300 to turn it into a bed. Baby furniture, like co-ed lesbo porn, is almost entirely about the gaze of the Other — in this case, the parents who have begun to realize that their own furniture-lives will never be the same. So, as my wife and I officially say goodbye to our social lives, at least we can create a baby space that defines us demographically. At least we didn’t set our sights on the award-winning Swedish option with the $200 non-standard mattress. It lacked the proper cred, anyway.

HOUSE OBJECT: Piano dolly, $20

Brian: Basically, this is a carpeted, wheeled platform that you put a piano on if you have a valid reason to move it.

Shoals: I know what a piano dolly is. I never knew you could buy one retail. Or that a private citizen would ever need to buy one for themselves. Do you have a prized piano that likes to change its own scenery? Are you trying to push it out of a second-story window and onto a cow’s head?

Brian: The people who owned our house before us left behind an immaculate 107-year-old piano, which is amazing, except that we have to move it to refinish the floors, and moving a piano is impossible for a circus, much less two people who lack even basic carny training. Apparently the trick is to think of it as a barn-raising: the entire community rallies around you, helps you wrestle the piano onto the dolly, and then eats hearty sausages together. I wouldn’t know, because even though we live in Amish country, we don’t have 200 friends here yet, and so this thing is just sitting next to our un-movable piano looking forlorn and feeble. Moving this piano is like our ultimate black-belt test in becoming responsible stewards of the American ownership society. I mean, communities are dying out everywhere, but somehow Republicans still know how to move over-sized musical instruments.

BABY OBJECT: Doula, $500 to $2000 depending on experience, generosity, qualifications and reputation in the community

Shoals: Doulas are equal parts evangelists and, in this city’s crowded marketplace, hustlers. Every pregnant woman deserves this service, but the sliding scale is also a way of staying competitive. Our doula is a up-and-comer who doubles as a massage therapist, counselor and cadaver lab instructor.

Brian: This is someone who comes to the labor to offer the mom emotional support, right? I know women who swear by this, even if the role seems like it was invented by a former Santana sideman looking for a new lease on life. I guess this makes sense, but isn’t childbirth going to be terrible no matter how much encouragement you get? If anything, I think this role should be expanded into areas where it might have more tangible success. If Amy Winehouse had had a walking-around doula, she’d probably still be alive.

Shoals: You basically have it right, which makes it a lot easier to explain. I had no idea what a doula was; my wife made it sound like paying for an idealized female elder to hang around and dispense random pieces of wisdom, minus any of the things that relatives actually do. At some point, I realized that this meant someone in the room other than myself who was responsible for assisting in the emotional ordeal of childbirth. I got fixated on getting someone Jewish in the room, for the same reason I try to only go to Jewish therapists. I was chastened when one candidate informed me that the baby might be born on Yom Kippur. I had no idea.

Conclusion: The takeaway here seems to be that house-renovation stuff is way cheaper than baby stuff, although that leaves out the cost of the house, the cost of furnishing the house and the cost of sending the house to gifted-and-talented camp at Tufts in a few years. On the other hand, children are a lifelong source of joy and affirmation, but if you buy a house, your friends will still think you’re fun in six months. If you can only do one, have a baby, but it’s still probably best to do both — if you add a swimming pool the tax breaks are amazing.

Bethlehem Shoals is a founding member of as well as the Twitter account @freedarko.

Brian Phillips is the editor of The Run of Play. You can find him on Twitter @runofplay.