Yesterday, February 29, was my birthday. Yes, that’s right—Leap Day.
Whenever people find out when I was born, the first question they ask is usually, “Wait, so how old are you?” or “So what happens when it’s not a leap year? When do you celebrate?” For example, yesterday morning, a student (who isn’t even mine) heard it was my birthday and stopped by my room to ask me “how that works.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“How old are you?”
“Well, I’m turning 40 today.”
He seemed genuinely confused, “But it’s only your 10th birthday.”
“I’ve only had 10 birthdays, but I still get older every year.”
I had to smile. I can understand his confusion. Another question I’m often asked is how my parents explained my birthday to me when I was growing up. To be honest, I’m not quite sure. There was no sit-down talk, explaining to me the technicalities of the way leap years work. (In fact, it wasn’t until much later—perhaps late middle school or high school—that I would come to appreciate why leap years even exist.) I imagine my parents assured me that having fewer birthdays made those Leap Days extra special, that it was about quality, not quantity. Whatever they said or didn’t say, I did grow up feeling special for having a Leap Day birthday. And what’s a birthday for if not a day to feel special?
There are other reasons that Leap Day birthdays are special. The particular leap year I was born—1976—was the bicentennial of the United States. According the Lunar New Year calendar, 1976 was also a Year of the Dragon, and “dragon babies” are generally considered to be the luckiest among all Chinese zodiac signs (birth rates in China actually go up during dragon years). Leap years are also the same years as the U.S. presidential elections as well as the Summer Olympics.
All that said, Leap Day is an odd birthday to have. On non-leap years, I always feel a little uncertain about what day I should celebrate. I like to imagine an invisible, ephemeral moment that flickers between 11:59 p.m. on February 28 and 12:00 a.m. on March 1—that’s when my birthday happens. When I renewed my driver’s license on my 20th birthday, the
warning caption underneath my photograph read “Not 21 years old until February 28, 1997” (At the time, all PA driver’s licenses made the driver’s 21st birthdate explicit to discourage the possibility of underage drinking). I felt a little mischievous, like I was getting away with turning 21 a day early. So at least according to the PA Department of Motor Vehicles, my official birthday on non-leap years is February 28.
When a few students asked me if I did something extra special on Leap Days to celebrate, I shrugged and admitted that I actually didn’t. Understandably, they found this a little disappointing (“You should take a big trip!” they suggested, and “You should throw a huge party—and can we come?” and “You should take the day off and not give us any homework!”). I guess I’ve gotten used to not really celebrating my birthday amidst all the years of un-birthdays. This birthday, in particular, was a “big” one. Not only was it my 10th Leap Day birthday, I also entered a new decade in my life and turned 40. Perhaps it was turning 40 that had me a little less excited to celebrate this year. Is 40 old? I’m not sure, but it certainly isn’t young anymore.
So how did I celebrate this milestone? My husband and I packed up our three boys and celebrated my birthday by spending the weekend in the city. We looked for a show, but none of the theaters were playing anything we were interested in watching. We considered the science museum, but the special exhibit we wanted to see wouldn’t open for another two weeks. We contemplated going for a swim in the hotel pool, but (unexpectedly) discovered that the rooftop pool was (not surprisingly) closed. So instead, we went out to eat at a few of our favorite places, and because Sunday was a glorious 60 degrees, we walked the city streets, eventually landing in Rittenhouse Square Park where we watched street performers work their magic tricks and musicians play as strangers danced.
It was a good day, Leap Day or not. 🙂
This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 250 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.