Happy rarest of birthdays, leap babies
Post Independent Correspondent
why leap year?
While the modern calendar contains 365 days, the actual time it takes for Earth to orbit its star is slightly longer — roughly 365.2421 days. Over decades and centuries that missing quarter of a day per year can add up. That’s why we periodically add in an extra day to make up the lost time and get the calendar back in sync with the heavens.
In 46 B.C., Caesar and the astronomer Sosigenes revamped the Roman calendar to include 12 months and 365 days. This “Julian Calendar” also accounted for the slightly longer solar year by adding a leap day every four years.
However, since the solar year is only .242 days longer than the calendar year and not an even .25, adding a leap year every four years actually leaves an annual surplus of roughly 11 minutes. This discrepancy meant that the Julian Calendar drifted off course by one day every 128 years, and by the 14th century it had strayed 10 days off the solar year. To fix the glitch, Pope Gregory XIII instituted a revised “Gregorian Calendar” in 1582. In this model, leap years occur ever four years except for years evenly divisible by 100 and not by 400. For example, the year 1900 was not a leap year because it was divisible by 100, but not 400. This calendar is not perfect, and remaining discrepancies will need to be addressed in around 10,000 years.
Leaplings. Who — and what — are they?
With a name like that, you might guess that they have arrived from outer space or risen from the black lagoon; but although their title does ring of science fiction, these individuals are just everyday people living among the rest of us. Their one distinction? Aging only every four years.
Well, to be fair, leaplings do age in the standard human way — it’s just that their actual birth date only comes around once every four years. Born on Feb. 29, or leap day, leaplings around the globe and in our community sometimes face unusual challenges in a world where the vast majority of other people take annual birthdays for granted. After all, leap day is the least probable of days to be born, with less than a mere 0.07 percent of the population coming into the world on Feb. 29.
So what is it like to be one of only about 200,000 living leaplings in the U.S.? A few locals recently gave their perspective.
“It’s kind of weird,” said Caleb Davis, a Rifle resident and sixth-grader at Rifle Middle School. Born on leap day 2004, Davis will celebrate just his third birthday this year.
“I’m going to turn 12 years old, but my leap year age is only 3,” Davis noted, adding that it is tough not to feel a little cheated when his true birthday does not appear on the calendar every single year. “My teachers always tell me, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get another birthday next year, too,” but actually I won’t get another real birthday for a really, really long time.”
Waiting four years for one’s actual birthday does seem unfair to most young leaplings, who are at a life stage when birthdays are still anticipated with great delight. Many make up for this off-year disappointment in a big way, however: by celebrating on Feb. 28 and March 1.
“Sometimes it felt like I had two birthdays because people didn’t know which day to say happy birthday,” said Elizabeth Tolan, who was born on leap day 1984 and spent much of her youth in Glenwood Springs. Celebrating her eighth birthday today at the age of 32, Tolan mentioned that in adulthood she now enjoys poking fun at non-leaplings.
“My favorite thing about [being a leap year baby] is probably being able to tell people who are younger that one day they’ll be older than me,” she noted with a smile.
Though many leaplings come to terms with their birth date later in life, some have relished it all along.
“I remember my ‘first’ birthday party at 4 years old,” said Elizabeth Van Dorn, a former Silt resident who is celebrating her 23rd true birthday today.
“I was born Feb. 29, 1924, so that party would have been in 1928,” she remembered. “My uncles gave me a handful of pennies that year, and I was just delighted — I thought I was rich.” On off-years, Van Dorn said she now parties double on both Feb. 28 and March 1 with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Although bending the B-day rules is a fun bonus for leaplings, many must also navigate certain day-to-day annoyances brought on by their unusual birth date.
“Sometimes I’ll try to enter my birthday on a computer form and it will tell me it’s invalid, or sometimes people forget that Feb. 29 is an actual day to begin with,” said Roaring Fork Valley native Susan Lane, who was born on leap day 1948 in Glenwood Springs. When Lane turned 21 years old in 1969, she went out to enjoy her first legal adult beverage at the Hotel Colorado and ran into a bit of trouble.
“Some of my friends and family took me out for my birthday that year, which was a non-leap year, and my brother asked our waitress if I could get a free drink,” Lane recalled. “I still looked very young then — like a teenager — and she asked to see my driver’s license. When she saw Feb. 29th listed as my birthday, she didn’t believe it was real. She didn’t quite ‘get it,’ and accused me of having a fake ID right there in front of everyone.”
Carbondale native Peter Olenick, 32-year-old professional skier and X-Games medalist who is quite possibly Colorado’s most famous leapling, has experienced an even wackier mix-up.
“When I was born the nurse doing my birth certificate did not know that there was a 29th or something, and it got messed up,” Olenick said. “Somehow my birth certificate and passport and driver’s license all have Feb. 24th as my birthday. It is a big pain to try and fix it, so I have just left it, but because of that I have not been able to vote since some other information on me shows other birthdays.”
Despite challenges like these, every local leapling agreed on one big plus: No one forgets your birthday when it’s on Feb. 29. Each of them planned to take full advantage of seeing their special day listed on the calendar this year.
Tolan is celebrating in India, and Olenick plans to ski or golf after returning home to Ironbridge from South Korea. Lane has just enjoyed a leap year visit from her daughter and granddaughter, and Davis is venturing with his family and friends to Grand Junction’s Spin City for laser tag and rollerskating.
But the one with the best plans of all? Van Dorn.
“This year I’m just going to sit and let everybody else entertain me,” she reported. Whether Van Dorn considers her age to be 23 or 92 years young, this leapling has earned it.
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