With spring pushing out the last vestiges of winter in Helsinki, the urge to participate in spring-like activities looms. I have always loved swimming. Perhaps being a Pisces, I’m naturally drawn to the water. Growing up near the ocean and having a family who went to the river almost daily during summers no doubt also played a part in my water-loving ways. So when Little Man came along, I knew he’d learn to swim at an early age. But alas, other than baths, I was at a loss as to how and when to get my little water baby submerged. Luckily, the mother’s group I’m involved with started a swimming meet up on Thursdays. Perfection! I could hardly wait to let my little dolphin flip his fins.
With the address to the swimming hall plugged into my phone, Little Man and I set off. It would be the first time that I navigated a tram all by myself. (For those of you who don’t know, I am notoriously TERRIBLE with navigation.) Other than the awkwardness of getting a stroller on and off the tram, it went well. I even managed to get off on the stop Google suggested! It was one of those streets where the trams are in the middle, with car traffic on either side. I managed to cross to the wrong side of the street, but didn’t realize it for about five minutes.
When I did finally cross to the correct side, I found number 35 pretty quickly. I was looking for number 49. Also, in my mind, I was looking for a swimming pool. You know, a regular-sized, American pool. Nothing too fancy or big. Silly American; you’re in Europe now, remember? Five ridiculously large, seemingly abandoned buildings, three streets, and two tram stops later (which I walked, thank you very much), I finally found the uimahalli. It was HUGE. Upon entering, I discovered that it has three (or is it four?) floors. (And, luckily, an elevator.) At that point, I hooked up with another mom from the group and we found our way to the correct level (because of course it wasn’t the one on which I entered), where you pay the low price of 6.70€ for the joy of swimming. I was handed a key card that needed to be swiped before passing through a turnstile to get to the locker room. Which was also massive.
After shedding my many layers of winter clothing (this happened to be late January and there was still snow on the ground), and outfitting Little Man in his first ever swim diaper, we wound our way through the labrynthine locker room (only getting lost once; no, really), and finally found the actual pool. Instead of just one pool, however, there were multiple. I didn’t snoop, unfortunately, but in the area with the splash pool, there was the main pool, which goes to about four feet deep, and another pool (possibly warmer than the others?) that also has large jets of water falling into it. It looks very relaxing. Judging by the size of the locker room, and the number of people walking passed this main area in matching outfits, I’m willing to guess that there is also a lap pool and a diving pool in another section of the hall.
After all this hooplah, I think we only spent about an hour actually swimming. But it was so much fun!! My little dolphin took to the water like he was born there. Aside from not liking water in his ears (and really, who enjoys that sensation?), he loved it all. On his tummy, he’d kick his little legs like he was really trying to go somewhere. He actually enjoyed the deeper water more than the six inch deep splash pool. He wasn’t quite big enough to try the baby slide, but he did like it when I dragged him through the water, or bounced him in and out.
When it came to leaving, I must say that I’m very thankful some of the other mothers were there. Drying off and getting dressed while keeping an eye on a baby who wants to roll everywhere is a bit much to handle on your own. Not to mention my American sensibilities and not being comfortable naked in front of strangers. I persevered and even managed to tag along with my German friend to the tram stop. The one directly across the street from the pool, not five blocks away.
Six weeks later (after our trip back to the US), Little Man and I were back at the pool. Feeling like a pro this time, I got off at the correct tram stop, went straight to the correct level to pay, and even remembered how to use the key card to get the key out of the locker. This time around, my little swimmer had a full outfit and we didn’t bother with the splash pool at all.
It wouldn’t be a true expat experience if I didn’t learn something the second time around. Rinsing off in the shower after swimming, while holding a baby, is quite tricky. Don’t get me wrong, I think most parents can do it, but if there’s a way to make it easier, the Finn’s have found it. The uimahalli supplies baby shower chairs! Something like a high chair, but designed to take in the shower. I spied a free one after rinsing off and nabbed it so I wouldn’t have to worry about Little Man rolling off the bench. He’s perfectly able to sit up now, though comically, still unable to get into a sitting position by himself. He’s ten months old and on the verge of crawling. He wants to explore everything, but is also perfectly happy to sit in a chair and watch things while I talk to him. It was so easy! I’m glad I found a way to appease my inner water nymph, get Little Man splashing, and hang out with other moms and cute babies! Thursdays are definitely good days.