My 8th birthday cake, photo by Sarah Reck

Leap Day: Thoughts on my 8th Birthday

I’ve always had trouble putting into words precisely how being born on February 29th feels to me.

It would be easy to say I have a love-hate relationship with it but that would be inaccurate; I don’t ever hate being born on February 29th. For the most part, I love it. It’s unique. There are a heck of a lot fewer people in this world who share my birthday than any other one. Every four years I get an extra special day to celebrate. It’s a topic of conversation for parties and small talk (this tends to only happen in leap years as otherwise it feels a little sometimes like I’m bragging, though that doesn’t necessarily stop me). And it’s a great truth to include in the getting to know you game, “Two Truths and a Lie.” Spoiler alert: People almost always choose it as my lie.

Most people tend to remember this about me once they learn it. Which means that while some people can’t remember their friends’ or sometimes family members’ birthdays, they nearly all remember mine. I would wager that my birthday is one of the most memorable things about me, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

However, I do get a lot of questions, which also isn’t necessarily a bad thing – all the time — 

“So how old are you really?”

Answer: 32, I’ve been alive the same number of years as someone else born in 1984.

“No, but really, aren’t you like 5?”

Answer: 32, which divisible by 4 is actually 8, but thank you for thinking I look 20!

“But — ?”

Answer: Are you asking how many birthdays I’ve had? Because that answer is this will be my 8th.

“So when do you celebrate every other year?”

Answer: I prefer to celebrate on February 28, though I suppose like anyone else, I pick the nearest weekend.

“Shouldn’t you celebrate on March 1, since you were born the day after February 28?”

Answer: Sure, but I was born in February and I rather like the fact that I was born in February, so I prefer to keep it that way if I can.

“Won’t it be great to say you’re only 15 when you’re 60?”

Answer: Sure, but I’ll still be 60 years old. Can’t get around that.

“Ha ha, so you can’t even drink, can you? You’re not 21!”

Answer: I turned 21 in 2005 and thankfully the law isn’t how many birthdays a person’s had otherwise I’d be 84 or dead before I could drink.

I don’t really mind answering these, though it’s the people that are obstinate that they’re right about my birthday or how I should view or celebrate my birthday that I get annoyed at. Or the ones that insist I’m only 8 years old, as if years equal birthdays. 

Of course, it still makes for a good story and a laugh, like this funny anecdote about my birthday …

I had a drivers license for several years that expired on February 29th in a year when that date didn’t exist. I worried constantly that people would think it was fake but apparently the majority of people don’t think like I do. February 29th’s existence or not isn’t in the forefront of their minds. I never once had someone question the legitimacy of my license no matter how many times I expected it.

 — 

I think that I look at birthdays differently than other people do because I only get one once every four years. Most years, I don’t put much stock in them. I like to celebrate with close friends in family. I like eating cake. (For my 30th birthday, my mother bought me a Batman cake which just shows that she knows me well!) I did something a little bigger than usual for my 30th. But all in all, it’s the leap years where I try to make it extra-special. All those in-between years usually just come and go.

I hope it’s only natural of me to get annoyed when people make a big deal out of their birthday every single year. I’m not talking about having a party or talking about it. I’m talking about the people who, every year, say “I’m celebrating my birthday all week long” or insist on an entire weekend of celebrations. 

I think that people born on leap day are the only people alive who have the right to make an extra big deal out of an ordinary birthday. I don’t even (usually — this year is slightly different and I feel like a hypocrite even bringing this up) insist on an entire week in years when I have a birthday. You have a birthday every single year! You don’t get to make a big deal out of turning 24 or 32. (I give people a pass, of course, for 21 and 30 and I probably will for 40.) Only I get to make a big deal out of it, and that’s only once every four years.

I get it — people like to celebrate the milestone birthdays — 16, 18, 21, 30, 40, then every other multiple of 10 until probably 75 — but I didn’t have a birthday when I turned 21 or 30, and I won’t at 75. My milestone birthdays are divisible by 4. So when I celebrate my actual birthday, I do like to sometimes make a thing about it.

While some people might remember doing something spectacular for their 21st birthday or their 30th, I (almost) remember all of my milestone birthdays.

In 1984, I was born. That was pretty exciting especially because I was due on the 28th and for whatever reason decided that I wanted to be late. Recently, for the first time, I heard my mother tell a story about my birthday. She said that in our family we have a lot of December birthdays. Her birthday, my dad’s, a few of my aunts’, now my sister-in-law’s. She said that when she and my dad talked about getting pregnant, she said she just didn’t want to have a December baby. Surprise! God works in funny ways because instead of December she got a date that only exists every four years.

I don’t remember 1988 or 1992, though I suppose that I probably had a birthday party like any other kid turning 4 or 8. It probably included a brightly-colored cake and birthday gift bags and games like pushing a ball across the carpet with our noses. I don’t know.

In 1996 the only thing I remember is my mom coming up to my school at lunch time and delivering a gigantic monster-themed cupcake to me at my lunch table. Not to me and all my friends but only to me. It had gobs and gobs of green and purple icing. Luckily I was not the type of middle schooler to be embarrassed at the sight of her mother in the school cafeteria.

In 2000 my birthday shared a milestone birthday. I turned 16. I had a party with my friends. I had a PA license plate birthday cake. We hung out like teenagers hung out. Most of my friends loved the idea of giving me “You’re 4 now!” birthday cards. (Better that than the 1 design available every four years for leap day, of which I usually get several duplicates.) I think I even got some great gifts aimed at 4-year-olds.

In 2004, my birthday corresponded with spring break, so my best friend and I joined my family on a short vacation in Florida during which Becky and I sat on the beach for several hours under the seemingly innocuous Florida winter sun sans sunscreen and burnt ourselves to a crisp. (If I contract skin cancer one day, I’m blaming my 5th birthday.)

In 2008 I lived in California and had a really awesome party with all my friends, some from work (I worked at Barnes & Noble at the time) and the rest from grad school. Everyone sectioned themselves off into those two groups and I flitted back and forth between the two with a never-empty glass of wine and my cat. It was a really, really good party. What I remember of it.

In 2012 I lived in New York City and invited friends to join me at my favorite speakeasy where we all got dressed up and drank fancy and delicious cucumber-flavored cocktails and I stumbled the 10 blocks back home with my amused roommate. I do remember all of that night because by then I knew my alcohol limits better.

This year I’m spending my 8th birthday with Mickey Mouse. I will proudly wear my Disney World birthday button and tell anyone who asks that yes, today really is my birthday – my 8th. What better place to spend your 8th birthday than Disney World? I’m also planning to ask anyone else I see wearing a birthday button if I can take a photo with them. I would love to come home from this trip with a photo album filled with fellow leap day babies from all over the world.

Most of the time, I consider myself a fairly normal, slightly above-average person. I have a good job, great family and friends, and I’m very happy with (most of) what life has thrown at me. But once a year when February 29th doesn’t come, and, better yet, once every four years when it does come, I am an absolutely extraordinary woman, and I love it.

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