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For leapers, birthdays are 4 times as sweet

By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein
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John Priley turns 11 this year “ which just happens to be the same age as his daughter, Mackensie. OK, so not exactly. But when your birthday rolls around only once every four years, things get interesting. She teases me and goes, ˜Oh, you're a kid like me,' Priley, a Roseville resident whose age in common years will be 44, said. It's almost weekly now. Priley is among the estimated 200,000 Americans who were born on Feb. 29, according to the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies, an organization dedicated to raising awareness of all things Leap Day. On Friday, he and other leaplings (or leapers, depending on preference), a group that includes rapper Ja Rule, actor Antonio Sabato Jr. and motivational speaker Tony Robbins, will celebrate a birthday that will actually appear on calendars. Things are definitely more emphasized when this type of birthday comes around, said Roseville Realtor Matthew Case, who will turn 7 leap years Friday (that's 28, for you mathematically disinclined). People do get me presents, and everything's just kind of bigger. Well, sometimes they're a little smaller. When he was 16, I threw him a 4-year-old's birthday party, admits Case's mom, Millie. The girls each got little bracelets and the boys got cars. It was just like a kid's birthday. And how did that go over? When you're in the prime of junior high school days, it's definitely embarrassing, Case said. But all the friends I had just kind of joked about it. Blame goes to Julius Caesar, who created Leap Day in 46 B.C. to make up for the fact that a year is slightly longer than 365 days (and preempting the eventuality that July would end up a winter month). For complicated reasons best explained with a visit to Wikipedia's Web site, the system was fine-tuned in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, who decreed leap days should not occur in years ending in 00, unless it's divisible by 400. Still, centuries of experience with the idea hasn't meant it always runs smoothly for those born on the date. In fact, the issue of Leap Day recognition by computer systems and government bureaucracy is a major issue for the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies, which claims some 6,000 members. We estimate at least half our members have had problems with legal documents, such as a driver's license, that gets our birthday wrong, co-founder Raenell Dawn said in a statement. Roseville resident Steve Kuhlke confirms some minor headaches relating to his Leap Day birthday. Every time I rent a car, he said. They put in your birthday and put 29 in off the driver's license, and you always see the guy sitting there hitting buttons and it keeps kicking it back at him. Then I say, ˜put in the 28th.' They get that. For Leap Day babies, though, the bigger issue is when to celebrate the day on common (read: non-leap) years. The two camps “ Feb. 28 or March 1 “ both have arguments going for them. Holdouts for the former say it keeps the birthday in the actual birth month; devotees of the latter say that day would have seen the delivery in a common year. It's not an issue for Priley, though. The thing is, my family celebrates birthdays a week at a time. Every birthday always has at least two parties “ maybe a third. But Kuhlke, who will turn 12 leap years old Friday, has a definite inclination. I celebrate it the day after, which is March 1, because technically I wasn't born on the 28th, he said. Indeed, that's precisely why Leap Day babies about to turn 21 will receive a rude awakening on their first trip to the bar “ no service until the next day. There are, however, advantages to the birthday ambiguity. On non-leap years, the free meals rack up. I've always been able to go to an El Torito and get a free dinner the night before and on the first (of March), Priley, whose 14-year-old son Jacob, was born on Halloween, said. This year, marketers are also taking notice. Come Friday, leapers can take advantage of free tax accounting at Roni Deutsch Tax Centers or a free lunch at Boston Market, according to press releases from both companies. Then there's the whole age thing “ a major claim to fame for leapers. I always tell people I stay forever young, Kuhlke said. But it's all, of course, relative. When I was in junior high, my bus driver was a leap baby, Case said. At that point he was 9, and I thought that was really old. For the most part, though, it's really just another day, Kuhlke said. I'm a firm believer, personally, that the day we should celebrate is Mother's Day, he said. They're the ones that had a real bad day having us.