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Opinion: Parents who fear a leap day birthday are making a big mistake

Opinion by Lev Golinkin

(CNN) — Usually, deciding on a child’s date of birth isn’t something parents have to worry about after the baby is born. And yet, it’s a choice my mom faced when I was born on 10-something p.m. on leap day.

February 29 is a horological abnormality, appearing only once every four years. Every other year, the calendar goes straight from February 28 to March 1. My mom told me that the hospital staff not merely offered, but urged her to change my birthdate to March 1. This was in the Soviet Union, which was a communist dictatorship, and communist dictatorships aren’t known for encouraging uniqueness and individuality. “It’ll be simpler for everyone,” the doctors assured her.

It turns out communists aren’t the only ones wary of leap day birthdays. The chances of being born on February 29 are about 1 out of 1,461. But even with those tiny odds, there are still markedly fewer babies with February 29 birthdays than the math says there should be. The reason is parents who seek to avoid what they think of as an undesirable and weird birthday by scheduling induced labor and C-sections for February 28 or March 1, instead.

I don’t want to be overly judgmental, but the notion that a kid couldn’t handle having a rare birthday doesn’t say much for the parents’ faith in the child. And yet, the urge to dodge a leap day delivery is so strong that, even today, one hears stories of doctors being willing to fudge births that occur in the first or last few minutes of February 29 by recording them as February 28 or March 1.

The biggest fear of February 29 birthdays naturally concerns presents, or potential lack thereof. “Do you only get presents once every four years?” is something I’ve been earnestly asked an alarming number of times.

“Yes,” I reply. “The Federal Birthday Gift Commission strictly enforces this, confiscating all presents received on non-leap years. However, when February 29 does come around, I’m eligible for something big, like a car.”

Another, more logical, question I often get asked is whether I celebrate my birthday on February 28 or March 1 during non-leap years. That can be tackled in several ways. My best friend Kyle tries to nail the non-existent moment between February 28 and March 1, rattling off HappyFakeBirthday! right as the clock hits midnight on the 28th.

I take a far wider approach. In fact, I take both February 28 and March 1: If I’m not going to get a real birthday, I’ll claim two days instead. I prefer February 28 because it’s my birth month, but it’s nice to have the March 1 option. If there’s a storm on the 28th, I’ll move it to March 1. Sometimes, if I feel the February 28 festivities didn’t quite measure up, I’ll inform friends and family that today was a dry run, and my birthday has been relocated to tomorrow.

The one time I was forced to have my birthday on March 1 was the year I turned 21. It wasn’t a leap year, which meant the calendar sailed directly from February 28 to March 1. This led to a brief philosophical discussion with a bouncer outside a dive bar in Boston.

It came down to perspective. It was February 28 and since my birthday is the day before March 1, I felt that I should be allowed to drink. The bouncer disagreed. The way he saw it, my birthday was the day after February 28, which meant he wasn’t letting me in for another 24 hours.

I told the bouncer that his was a rather defeatist approach to things. I wanted us to focus on before, not after, to be proactive, to look forward instead of spending our lives forever gazing in the rearview. I reminded him of the power with which just a small shift in outlook can transform one’s day. I asked him to join me on this journey.

The bouncer said that if I wasted any more of his time, I would spend both February 28 and March 1 in the emergency room.

Bullies pick on the weak, whether on the playground or the calendar. As insane as it sounds, February 29 sometimes occurs even less frequently than usual: Once in a rare while, the calendar overlords skip an entire leap year cycle, which means there’s no February 29 for 8 straight years.

There’s a rule about when this happens and a timekeeping reason for it, but I’m not going to explain them. I refuse to indulge the garbage notion of leaping leap day. February 29 has more than fulfilled its calendar-shortening duty; let some other day take one for the team. I recommend St. Patrick’s Day — after all, he supposedly saddled February 29 with a strange tradition that persists to this day.

According to Irish legend, St. Bridget once asked St. Patrick whether there’s a time when women can propose to men. St. Patrick wasn’t hot on the idea, but apparently he didn’t want to categorically reject it. After some debate, he declared women can propose to men, but only on leap days, i.e. once every four years. In countries where February 29 continues to be linked to this whimsically sexist tradition, it’s known as Bachelor’s Day: when it’s open season on shy single lads.

Between being associated with a three-quarter reduction in birthday gifts, the looming threat of having leap day canceled for eight years, and warnings enjoining unmarried men to stay indoors, I can see why mothers and medical professionals take drastic measures to steer clear of February 29. I think it’s the wrong approach, though. Leap day is amazing, unique and weird, and I hope expectant parents give it a shot — at the very least, you’ll get to brag your child graduated from high school at four and a half.

That’s what my mom decided to do, despite pressure from the Soviet maternity ward to retroactively change my date of birth or risk complicating the lives of workers and peasants everywhere.

My mom refused, telling the hospital she’s keeping my birthday as is. “I think he’ll like it,” she told the doctor. She was right.

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