Birthdays well worth the wait
Feb. 29 celebrants say joys outweigh complications
For leapers, those born on Feb. 29, there are certain nuisances that come with that most unusual of birthdays. The issues are so consistent and persistent that they have been neatly divided into four categories on the website of the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies, the cyberhome of all things Leap Day.
First, and most famously, are the issues that arise at birth, mostly due to nervous mothers and superstitious doctors who try everything to avoid a Feb. 29 birth. Some induce early labor; others go so far as intentionally falsifying birth certificates.
Then there is the computer conundrum - “When I shop online I’m constantly told my birth date doesn’t exist,’’ said Sheila Howard, a 60-year-old from West Bridgewater who will celebrate her 15th birthday today.
Next on the list are the problems of getting a driver’s license and the suggestion to simply list their date of birth as Feb. 28 or March 1 to make it easier. Most leapers consider the idea appalling.
Finally, the site names that most painful of issues, the rampant teasing in childhood, where there is still such a thing as being too young.
But most leapers agree that the occasional headache is a small price to pay for the privilege of having what they consider the greatest birthday of them all. Their pride is so pronounced that they even have a name for themselves: They are eleapists.
“It’s just more special,’’ said Don Amirault of Lynnfield, who was born on Leap Day in 1956. “Every four years, I really celebrate. I’m going to Las Vegas this time. And people always ask what I do when it’s not a leap year, and I just tell them I make up for it by celebrating on Feb. 28 and March 1 and get two birthdays.’’
But Raenell Dawn - the cofounder of the Honor Society, which boasts 10,000 members - said the date, which falls every four years, is still seen by many nonleapers as a confusing aggravation.
“They say that Leap Day messes up the calendar,’’ she said. “No, no! You’ve got it backwards. It’s the day that keeps the calendar in order. It represents balance, how we keep our seasons in sync with the calendar. If we didn’t have this extra day, then people would really have something to be mad about.’’
Leap Day exists because a solar year is slightly longer than 365 days, requiring an extra day every fourth year to keep things in line.
But that is not all. More tweaking is needed to account for imperfections in the system: Years evenly divisible by 100 do not have a Leap Day, though years divisible by 400 do. As a result, the year 2000 had a leap day while the year 2100 will not, which means those born today - “leaplings,’’ in leaper terminology - will have eight years to celebrate their 21st birthday.
The odds of being born on leap day are just one in 1,461, and the Honor Society estimates there are about 200,000 leapers in the United States, and 5 million worldwide. It is rare indeed, and there’s something about that uniqueness that, leapers say, makes some people get very strange about it.
“When I left work the day before, everyone said: ‘Don’t have him tomorrow!’ ’’ said Elena Moreira, a social worker from Hamilton who gave birth to a son, Andreas, on Leap Day in 2008. “There was this weirdness about it, but I didn’t really think about it because I wasn’t due until March 15. I said: ‘Don’t worry. I don’t feel anything.’
“And, of course, my water broke at 5:30 in the morning, and that was that,’’ said Moreira, who said she quickly grew to love having a son with such a rare birthday.
Other than the leapers, the people who seem to have the strongest feelings about Feb. 29 are those born on Feb. 28, the day most leapers choose to celebrate when there is no leap year.
“I went to elementary school with a girl who was born on the 29th, and she would always intrude on my birthday, then when hers did come around they’d make such a big deal about it,’’ said Rob Hagopian of Somerville, who was born a few hours before Leap Day in 1976. “They got all the attention, and when you’re a kid, you don’t want to share your birthday with someone who doesn’t have a birthday at all.’’
Still Hagopian said he was happy to escape the teasing that was tossed at his classmate for being so “young,’’ which is such a prevalent problem that there are now children’s books that aim to turn “different’’ into “special’’ for sensitive children. They have titles such as “Mommy, Where’s My Birthday?’’ and “It’s My Birthday . . . Finally!’’
But for an adult, that shortage of birthdays becomes something to savor, leapers say, a cause for a special sort of party. Michael Berg, a Wheaton College professor from Needham, is 40 years old today, but is celebrating his 10th birthday. So, over the weekend, he had a party where he recreated the one he had when he was actually 10 years old.
“I thought about going to Chuck E. Cheese, but instead we got out the old Atari 2600,’’ he said. “It was fun playing 1982 video games because the kids didn’t even understand the graphics. We’d say, ‘Shoot the Centipede,’ and they’d say, ‘You mean that squiggly line?’ ’’
The most special birthday, of course, is the original one. And so today, as the world welcomes its latest class of leaplings, Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge is doing something cute, a little way to mark the specialness of the day.
The hospital has invited their last class, the 4-year-olds born on this day in 2008, back to the hospital for a first birthday party and a chance to meet their brand new birthday buddies.