Leapsters keep two sets of ages, annual and quadrennial. We mark time between real birthdays in fourths and halves. Leap-year days serve a purpose, as we know: The extra day tacked onto the end of February every four years accounts for Earth’s spinning around the sun five hours, 48 minutes, and 45 seconds longer than 365 days. In 46 B.C., Julius Caesar noticed the calendar had fallen behind 90 days and tried to correct the difference, and added days here and there to months on the calendar for one year, adding a leap day every four years thereafter. This still needed tweaking: By 1582, with 11 minutes a year left unadjusted, the calendar had shifted 10 days. The Gregorian reform of the Julian calendar introduced an extra day to make up the difference, with leap years of centuries divisible by four skipped.
Whatever. The bottom line is, I turn 12 this year, and I have Pope Gregory XIII and my mother to thank for it.
Leaplings have formed clubs over the years, like The Order of 29’ers, set up by a newspaper editor in Pittsburg, Kansas, in the early part of the last century. Since 1988, Anthony, Texas, has championed itself as the Leap Year Capital of the World: In 2012, the town’s three-day celebration included a car show, an ice hockey game, and a golf tournament. At the website of the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies (“spreading Leap Year day awareness” for 19 years), fellow leapsters and leapettes share tales of woe: children who thought their birthdays were taken away, parents begging and bribing doctors to fudge kids’ birth certificates to February 28 or March 1. The date seems to confound petty bureaucrats and government factotum alike. “When I moved to Oregon and went to get my driver’s license I was told there is no February 29,” Raenell Dawn, the co-founder of the Honor Society, who turns 14 (56) this year, tells me. “The DMV employee actually said to me ‘Are you sure it’s February 29?’ As if I wasn’t sure of my own birth date!”
Leapsters fall into two schools. There are those who think it’s a unique quirk, like having double-jointed thumbs or keeping an AOL account. And then there are those who think it’s no big deal. “All I do is spend time with my family and close friends,” Antonio Sabáto, Jr., the actor and former Calvin Klein model (born February 29, 1972), writes to me on Twitter. “Good enough for me.” I haven’t heard back from the rapper and actor Ja Rule (born February 29, 1976) or the motivational speaker Tony Robbins (born February 29, 1960), so I assume being an actual celebrity trumps leapster status.
I can’t help but think about my life more deeply every four years. Thinking in four-year periods isn’t uncommon—we have summer Olympics and presidential elections on leap years, after all. But, each February 29, I pause to take a life inventory. 16 to 20 marked the time from high school to college. From 36 to 40, I became a father and moved out of New York City.