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How old are you really? Leap year 2020 means a double birthday for these Canadians

Click to play video 'Unraveling the mystery of leap years' Unraveling the mystery of leap years
Why do we have leap years and why are there exceptions to the four-year rule? Global News meteorologist Peter Quinlan unravels the mystery.

On Feb. 29, a mother named Jennie Nilsson will celebrate her 11th and 44th birthdays on Vancouver Island.

In Bellwood, Ont., a teenager named Mark Walker will celebrate his fourth and 16th birthdays.

READ MORE: Five facts about leap year

In Toronto, Amanda Abbott will turn 10 and 40, while her son, Pavan Singh, celebrates his first and fourth birthdays.

In Ottawa, Brenna Dubé will turn 52 and 13, a middle-aged woman soon to relive her teenage years (a fact her younger but technically older nephew delights in).

And just outside of Halifax, young David Biso will turn two and eight. His cake will be chocolate — his favourite — and his invitations went out weeks in advance.

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Click to play video 'Edmonton leap day babies celebrate special birthdays' Edmonton leap day babies celebrate special birthdays
Edmonton leap day babies celebrate special birthdays
  

Half of the invite nods to his technical birthday (two) with a leaping frog for good measure, while the other half acknowledges the age he looks and feels (eight, with a passion for minecraft).

“I call my son a leapling,” says Biso’s mother, Amanda Purvis. Last year, she used icing to write “happy one-and-three-quarters birthday”, on her little leapling’s cake, although Biso hasn’t fully grasped the concept yet.

He was supposed to be born on Feb. 20, 2012, but like most babies, Biso wanted to come on his own time. In the end, Purvis was eight days overdue when the hospital called her in for her induction at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 28.

Biso’s big sister had roared into the world quite quickly, so Purvis thought her son might follow suit. As the clock ticked toward midnight, there was some debate in the hospital room over whether he would hold on and be born leap year rare or whether he’d finally had enough of in utero gestation and opt for a more conventional Feb. 28 entrance.

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At 4:45 a.m. on Feb. 29, Biso made his debut — a leaper, leapling, a little leap baby.

February 29 occurs once every four years, a bonus day that’s needed to make sure that summer stays summer, fall stays fall, winter stays winter, and spring stays spring. That’s because technically it doesn’t take the earth 365 days to revolve around the sun, it takes us 365.2421 days.

And while one-fifth of a day might not seem to make a big difference in the short turn, it does add up. So back in 46 B.C., Julius Caesar got astronomer Sosigenes to help him update the calendar to include an extra day once every four years. It keeps our seasons in line and gives leapers like Biso the opportunity for an extra special birthday bash once every four years.

In 1997, Raenell Dawn, an American leaper living in Oregon, co-founded the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies. Her website features a countdown until the next leap day and a list of leap day babies whose names have been “leapified.” So far, just J.N. Oleap Fernando, Aleapia Anderson, and Cody James Leaping Edgerly.

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There are also a few suggestions in case you’re pregnant and Feb. 29, 2020, is your little one’s birth date: Leapfrey, Leaphanna, Benjaleap, Leap Erickson and Sacagaleapa, to name a few.

READ MORE: Why do leap years exist?

The society’s Facebook group is overflowing with leaplings.

“It’s the most important date on the calendar because it keeps all the other days in line,” Dawn says.

“Society needs to recognize the most important date in the calendar.”

In the Honor Society, leapers tip each other off about free leap day offerings (a beer here, a discount there) and call out anyone who still thinks Feb. 29 isn’t a real day.

The leapers also share their favourite stories, often about the ways in which online systems and government bureaucracy were slow to put Feb. 29 into their systems, and they share custom T-shirts that say things like, “I’m just a 13-year-old trapped in a 52-year-old’s body.”

That shirt is perfect for Dubé.

She’s mostly pretty nonchalant about having Feb. 29 as a birthday, although she does note:

“It gives me the heebie jeebies having to think about reliving my teenage years.”

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Growing up, Dubé says, her leap birthday was mostly a non-issue. Teachers used her to teach about how the earth actually takes 365.2421 days to go around the sun and later it proved to be a fun fact she could whip out in job interviews without having to get too personal.

For the most part, she says, she managed to leverage non-leap years into extra celebrations. No Feb. 29? Fine, birthday part one is Feb. 28 and birthday part two is March 1. The only time having a leap birthday did annoy her was on her 18th birthday, when she became legally allowed to drink in Quebec, where she was in school.

The campus bar was “very strict about checking ID,” she says, so they made her stand outside the door until midnight on March 1. Her friends went in to save a table.

“I was half annoyed, half laughing,” she says.

Ottawa leaper Brenna Dubé will turn 52 and 13 in 2020, a middle-aged woman soon to relive her teenage years.
Ottawa leaper Brenna Dubé will turn 52 and 13 in 2020, a middle-aged woman soon to relive her teenage years. Provided

There’s no consensus in the Honor Society about whether to celebrate on Feb. 28 or March 1, just as there’s no consensus on whether the preferred nomenclature is leaper or leap baby or leapling.

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Abbott’s parents celebrated her birthday on Feb. 28, so that’s how she’s celebrating her son Singh’s birthday too. He’s only one and four, so he hasn’t fully figured out the whole birthday-once-every-four-years situation; he just thinks moms and their kids share birthdays.

Mostly, Abbott is pretty blasé about the big day. After all, she says, “You don’t think about your birthday every day.”

But this one will be special. She’ll take her son to the aquarium in the morning and then go axe throwing in the afternoon with friends to celebrate her 10th and 40th.

Abbott gets the same joke all the time, “How old are you really?” In 2020, she says she just might start responding with her leap age.

Like Abbott and Singh, Dawn is “a Februarian.” If someone tells her happy birthday on March 1, she responds that her birthday was the month prior.

And yet, the March 1 camp justifies their decision by noting that during leap years, Feb. 29 is the 60th day of the year. When there is no Feb. 29, the 60th day is March 1. Still, Dawn says, “a lot of us celebrate both because we can.”

Click to play video '‘Leap baby’ born to New Brunswick parents' ‘Leap baby’ born to New Brunswick parents
‘Leap baby’ born to New Brunswick parents

Nilsson was very nearly an actual March 1 baby. While she lives on Vancouver Island, she was born in St. John’s, N.L., where her mother was rushed to the hospital shortly before midnight on Feb. 29, 1976. With 15 minutes to spare, Nilsson was born.

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Her only real memory of being a leap kid was when her father gave her a birthday card for a two-year-old at her eighth birthday party. “I was so embarrassed,” she says — all her friends were there.

And yet, she did encounter her own bureaucratic obstacles. The one man in charge of driver’s licences in the rural Labrador town where she grew up was so convinced her birthday did not exist that he refused to allow Nilsson to write her driver’s licence test, she says. She had to write to the province to request permission to write her test, which they then had to send via notarized letter.

Jennie Nilsson and her sons at her 10th/40th princess-themed birthday bash.
Jennie Nilsson and her sons at her 10th/40th princess-themed birthday bash. Provided

It used to be, too, that Nilsson would be held up sometimes when trying to cross the border into the United States because its computer system didn’t recognize her birth date. Those issues persist today, according to Dawn.

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Not all software companies acknowledge the date, she says, so for a while, she had her birth certificate saying Feb. 29 and her driver’s licence saying March 1, which caused identification issues.

“Most leap day babies don’t go through these issues, but there are leap day babies that do … and that wreaks havoc,” Dawn says. To solve this issue, the Honor Society’s website includes a code any software system can use to include Feb. 29 so that, as Dawn puts it, companies can “leapify” their technology.

For the record, Global News did reach out to all the provincial and territorial governments to see if any of the issues experienced by leapers like Nilsson linger now for the next generation of leaplings like Biso in Nova Scotia and Walker in Ontario.

Those that did respond — Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories — said all their computer systems recognize Feb. 29 as an actual date and that they’d recorded no issues.

Biso and Walker have yet to deal with any bureaucratic snafus, although Purvis says she already fields her fair share of jokes as to which day a decade from now Biso will be allowed into a bar — Feb. 28 or March 1?

Nova Scotia leapling David Biso.
Nova Scotia leapling David Biso. Provided

But for Walker, Donna Dupuy’s only child, a birthday is a birthday. He’ll be in Niagara Falls, celebrating by spending the night in a hotel and hitting up his favourite arcade. He’s big into games like Pac Man, Galaga, and anything to do with Star Wars and Lego.

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If anything, his mom has thought more than him about what it meant to raise a leaper (the Dupuy family’s preferred term since it was a little easier for a toddler to say) because she’s had to plan all the parties.

“When do we do it?”

The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is one that parents raising kids born the other 365 days of the year would probably also give: on the weekend.

Click to play video '‘Leap second’ to be added to the end of 2016' ‘Leap second’ to be added to the end of 2016
‘Leap second’ to be added to the end of 2016