By Joanne Bailey-Boorsma and Victoria Mullen
The chances of being born on Feb. 29 are about 1 in 1,461. So for brand-spanking-new Grand Rapids-area babies, Skylar Tyler, Luke VanWoerkom, and Riley Ann Schiefla, the odds were in their favor this year.
They join the ranks of a very exclusive club – no joke, there is the Honor Society of Leap Year Babies – today.
“It makes it more special,” said Joy Tatum in an article recently posted at Spectrum Health’s HealthBeat.
Just for the record, there are about 187,000 people who were born on what many call Leap Day, Feb. 29, which occurs only once every four years. Although according to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who took to Twitter to debunk Leap Day naming, the day is not about leaping anywhere. “The calendar is simply, and abruptly, catching up with Earth’s orbit,” according to Tyson’s tweet.
We’re fans of Neil’s just like the next guy, but geeze, what a wet blanket.
Actually it takes the earth 365 days, five hours, 48 minutes and 45 seconds to go around the sun. In order to even out the calendar, a day was added every four years. Otherwise our calendar would be off by about 25 years every 100.
Most Leap Day babies end up celebrating their birthdays on Feb. 28 or March 1, when there isn’t a Feb. 29. Existential crisis? Only if they let it be. Well, truth be told, sometimes they don’t have a choice. Birth certificates and most government agencies like Social Security use February 29 for those born on Leap Day, but leaplings occasionally encounter bureaucratic difficulties using their true birth dates. Some computerized drop-down menus don’t include February 29.
And you thought your life was confusing.
On the plus side, Leap Day babies have an awful lot of freedom with their birthday. Some may choose to strictly adhere to Feb. 29, while others elect to melt in with the crowd with Feb. 28 or March 1. Tatum said her family plans to celebrate Skylar’s birthday on March 1. We’ll have to ask Skylar how she feels about that when she’s old enough to have an opinion. By then, she’ll be either 8 or 2. Or maybe 4 or 1, depending on how precocious she turns out to be.
Aside from these fun facts, what can leaplings look forward to throughout their special lives? Here are but a few of the emotional and psychological benefits:
- Leaplings may be buffered from the emotional pressure of aging one year at a time. Instead, they’re reminded only every four years. (But we must take into account petty annoyances, which we address below.)
- Some may choose to take advantage of this quirk in time and celebrate their birthdays on both February 28 and March 1 in off-leap years. More cake and ice cream. And maybe more presents, too.
- Others make the most of a fabulous thing and pull out all the stops, throwing an amazing party every four years on their real birthdays. One leapling’s parents rented a pony for her when she turned 4 on her first real birthday. And for her 16th birthday, her parents sent a limo to pick her up from school.
- Having a Feb. 29 birthday is a great conversation-starter at parties, on first dates, while waiting in line, etc.
On the minus side, there are way too many documented cases of tasteless jokes by well-meaning friends, such as gifts of coloring books and crayons on a leapling’s “real” birthday; being told they look old for their age (e.g., 24, or 6). Etc. In our opinion, these stunts are merely displays of ill-concealed envy.
In a society that makes such a big deal about celebrating birthdays, there are bound to be casualties. Birthdays that carry social weight, like Bar Mitzvahs and Quinceaneras, which are coming-of-age celebrations for boys and girls, respectively, may not be considered as significant if they don’t fall on the actual birthdate. Milestones like 18 or 21 can be just as frustrating.
But life isn’t easy for any of us, and this shouldn’t scare any baby away from being born on Leap Day.
Thankfully, our three little leaplings won’t have to worry about any of these things for a few years. For now, let’s just welcome these little cutie pies into the world and wish them all the best. Being a leapling can be enormous fun, and that’s what we hope for Skylar, Luke and Riley Ann.