Jack Knox: Life for Leapies: at 84, he’s old enough to buy beer

The best thing about being born Feb. 29? You can pick your own birthday. Or, if you’re the parents, your kid’s birthday.

“We celebrate on the closest Saturday to the 28th,” says Victoria’s Paul Morgan. Except for today, of course. Today, son Cooper turns four, or one, depending on how you look at it.

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That’s too young to experience the complications that can come with being born on Leap Day.

They do exist, though, which is one of the reasons why a Duncan man, Peter Brouwer, founded the Leap Year Honour Society in 1997.

The biggest problems for those born on Feb. 29? Being issued with documents bearing non-existent dates.

In some places, sloppy computer programming results in Leapies — also known as known as Leapers or Leaplings — getting credit cards or five-year driver’s licences that expire on Feb. 29, 2019, or whatever, leading sharp-eyed clerks and traffic cops to think they’re dealing with frauds.

Then there’s the dreaded invalid-birthday glitch. Some online sites reject the registration applications of people born Feb. 29. It happened to Brouwer years ago when he first tried to sign up on YouTube.

There’s another computer-related wrinkle, too. Leap Year exists to keep the calendar in line with the Earth’s orbit around the sun. Because the journey takes an inconvenient 365 and one quarter(ish) days, February is extended by one day every four years, except in years ending in 00, the exception to the exception being those years that are divisible by 400.

Got that? Some computer programmers didn’t, creating confusion in the year 2000.

Happily, that’s something we (and by “we” I mean “not I”) won’t have to worry about again until 2100, the year young Cooper Morgan will turn 84, or perhaps 21, finally old enough to buy a beer in Seattle.

That last bit highlights another indignity suffered by Leapies: not being able to order a drink on the date you turn of age, a rite of passage enjoyed (?) by 99.93 per cent of Canadians.

And please, let’s not even get into the soul-crushing loss of all those free-on-your-birthday deals in restaurants and ice-cream shops (OK, some of those places will take heart and feed you on another day — though note that some Leapies, known as strict Februarians, flat-out refuse to celebrate their birthdays in March).

Now, all of this doesn’t really affect that many people. There are only about five million Leapies worldwide. The odds of being born on Feb. 29 are 1,461 to one.

But if you’re the one in 1,461, it can be kind of a big deal, offering access to an exclusive, if not necessarily desirable, club. Note that after Brouwer, who now lives in Vancouver, merged his Honour Society with that of a similar organization headed by an Oregon woman named Raenell Dawn, registration in their rechristened Honour Society of Leap Year Day Babies topped 11,000, all of them born on Feb. 29, before the co-founders stopped maintaining the membership list in 2016.

The group also has a Facebook page where, on what was Friday afternoon in Victoria, Leapies from around the world swapped birthday wishes as the calendar flipped to a new day elsewhere.

Those calendars can be a source of grief to Leapies, though. Go to Leapyearday.com and you’ll see arguments for adding the words Leap Year Day, in capitals, where there’s currently nothing printed at all. Dawn jokes on the website that she suffers from EBS — Empty Box Syndrome.

This, apparently, is an affliction from which she has suffered for some time.

“Raenell takes it personally every time she sees a calendar with an empty box on Feb. 29,” Brouwer said when we discussed this in 2008, which was, depending on how you look at it, either 12 or three years ago. Brouwer turns 64 today, or perhaps 16.

All this is beyond Cooper Morgan as he turns four/one today.

“He understands the concept of birthdays,” says his dad. Leap Year, not so much. Ditto for months, weeks and so on.

“Time,” his father points out, “is a human construct.”

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