A birthday like no other - leap day

Quandaries: Parents of babies born yesterday were filled with questions about when and how to celebrate.

March 01, 2004|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

As the birth of his first child approached, city police Detective T.C. McGowan watched the calendar and puzzled through the consequences of what would happen if his daughter was born Feb. 29.

That date rolls around once every four years, during leap years. So would that mean birthdays only once every fourth year? Would the law prohibit her from driving until she is 64, drinking until she is 84? Even as an overprotective father, McGowan thought that would be a bit too much.

But then his wife, Mindy, gave birth to tiny, blue-eyed, brown-haired Kalie McGowan at 8:44 a.m. yesterday, on the dreaded leap day. While she was in labor at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, she told her husband that she had a plan for dealing with the birthday quandary.

"My plan was, `Well, if she's born before noon on the 29th, we'll have her birthday [parties] on the 28th," said Mindy McGowan, 30, a Web site designer. "And if she's born after noon, we'll just have her birthday on March 1."

Her husband now sees the positive side of having such a rare birthday. "I joked that at least aging wouldn't be hard on her, with birthdays only every fourth year," said McGowan, who lives with his wife in Owings Mills and investigates assaults in the city's Northeast District.

Similar jokes spread in many maternity wards yesterday as babies were born on the one date that crops up as infrequently as the summer Olympics.

Being born Feb. 29 is the ultimate oddity, with only 0.07 percent of the population -- one in 1,461 -- being born on a leap day.

The Romans inserted the extra date into the calendar in 46 B.C. to make up for the fact that the solar year -- the length of time it takes for the Earth to orbit the sun -- is about 365 1/4 days. Instead of having the extra quarter-day dangling at the end of every year, Julius Caesar clustered them into an extra day every fourth year.

There was a problem with that solution, however. The solar year is about 11 minutes short of 365 1/4 days. To make up for this shortfall, Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar in 1582 to omit the leap year three times every 400 years.

The quirky date portends birthdays full of oddball mirth and puzzlement.

Carol Burns, 37, a nurse from West Baltimore, gave birth to a healthy, 5-pound, 7-ounce girl, Alana Burns, at 2:57 a.m. yesterday at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"I've been saying, `I don't really want her to be born on leap year day, because it would be too confusing for a child,'" Burns said from her hospital bed yesterday.

"But she did it anyway to spite me," Burns said, laughing. "I figure I'll just give her a bigger party than normal every fourth year. And there's a positive side to this birthday. When she's 40 years old, she can say she's only 10. It'll be fun."

But Burns is also a bit flummoxed about what she'll serve when she throws her daughter the extra-large birthday parties every fourth year.

"What do you do on a leap day, anyway? I don't know. Do you serve frogs?" she asked.

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