The hassles of being a leap year baby
TORONTO – It’s rare for Laura Pedersen to celebrate a birthday on the day she was actually born. The only thing less common for her is hassle-free paperwork.
Her status as a leap year baby ensures that genuine birthday festivities are only possible once every four years. That same Feb. 29 birth date also creates day-to-day hassles that are all too common.
Online application forms insist leap day doesn’t exist. Official insurance forms document the wrong birthday. And no matter what administrative process she’s trying to tackle, she inevitably faces questions as to whether she was, in fact, born on leap day.
“We got married this past summer…and when I wrote my birthday down, the commissioner asked me several times: ‘You’re sure that it’s Feb. 29, right?'” Pedersen said in a telephone interview as this year’s leap day loomed.
“That’s the only kind of birthday that that happens with. They didn’t check with (my husband) that he wrote his down right.”
Skepticism about a Feb. 29 birthday is widespread, according to one organization that was formed in part to combat it.
The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies was created in 1997 not only to celebrate the unusual date, but to raise awareness of the challenges associated with it and to advocate for those affected by such hassles.
Co-founder Peter Brouwer will celebrate his 15th leap day birthday in Vancouver this year — he’ll be 60, for those who struggle with multiplication. He says inconveniences caused by corporate or technological failure to recognize the day has resulted in serious problems for decades for leapers, as he calls those who share his birthday.
Leapers have experienced everything from webpage shutdowns to halted banking transactions due to the lack of familiarity with the date by authorities. He even recalled a society member who was accused of using a falsified driver’s license because of his date of birth.
The society mounted a few tongue-and-cheek campaigns along with more serious efforts to have companies reappraise their efforts to accommodate leapers.
Despite ongoing challenges with his own insurance company, Brouwer said recent years have seen a decisive shift in leapers’ favour.
“I think things have really improved,” he said. “I have not had a problem entering Feb. 29 anywhere since I can remember.”
Pedersen too said things are getting easier, adding sites like Facebook that once gave her a hard time now acknowledge her unusual birth date and accurately share it with others.
Some other online forms, she said, can now be completed through the simple trick of selecting her birth year first, then choosing the Leap Day when it finally appears as an option.
The shift is significant enough that future generations may find themselves embracing Feb. 29 rather than cursing it as a nuisance.
Krista McLean of Airdrie, Alta., said she was initially chagrined when she gave birth to a leap day baby eight years ago.
But as her son Jayden prepares to celebrate his second genuine birthday on Monday, McLean says she feels much more confident that he won’t be encumbered by the problems she was anticipating.
“I have been worried about when he gets his driver’s license or when he’s 18 and wants to go to the bar, but so far we haven’t run into anything,” she said.
Completing his official paperwork has been as easy as filling out her own, she said, adding removing such obstacles will hopefully allow him to keep enjoying the novelty of his rare special day.
But Pedersen points out one more area that might mar birthday festivities for leapers unless companies mend their ways.
Reward programs, she said, are among the last of the consistent leap year holdouts, adding that businesses who offer promotions timed to arrive on a customer’s birthday often leave leapers out by mistake.
Addressing these small pesky annoyances, she said, would make those born on Feb. 29 more inclined to embrace their birthday as the festive occasion it should be.
“If you’re stuck having a birthday every few years, you might as well be proud of it.”
© 2016 The Canadian Press