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Leap Year Babies Skip Out On Birthdays

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Like the Olympics and presidential elections, leap year comes every four years, offering babies born on Feb. 29 and couples married on that day a quadrennial chance to celebrate.

Hospitals nationwide will welcome about 9,000 newborns Saturday, and Orange County parents are bracing for a few of them. There were 107 children born in Orange County last leap year day (the odds against being born on Feb. 29 are 1,461 to 1; the odds are 365 to 1 on any day in a normal year).

Expectant couple Theresa and William Pacheco, who live on a boat in Newport Harbor, never thought their first child would be a leap-year-day one.

But when the doctor changed the due date to Feb. 29, the couple were tickled by the prospect, and now they’re plotting midnight bashes every year as Feb. 28 changes into March 1 to make sure their baby has a happy birthday.

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“We’ve been trying to think of what to do to make it special. We want to make it fun,” said Theresa.

Another couple, Lisa and Ernie McCarthy from Huntington Beach, had their hearts set on their first child being a leap-year-day baby, to match their wedding anniversary.

But when their nine-pound baby boy came a week too soon, Lisa said she had already forgiven Dylan for his early arrival. “There goes my leap-year baby,” she said.

Weddings taking place on leap year day will have true anniversaries only every four years.

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George Gilbert, lay minister and member of the board of directors at Unity Christ Church of Anaheim, says the church has three weddings scheduled for Saturday, about three times the usual number. The weddings, Gilbert says, are for “people who only want to give anniversary gifts once every four years.”

Edison High School sweethearts Susan Case and former Washington Redskins wide receiver Carl Harry are planning a leap day wedding, but according to the bride, the couple chose Feb. 29, 1992, not because it’s leap year day, but because 11 is their lucky number (the 29th breaks down numerically to be 2 plus 9, which equals 11, and ’92 represents 9 plus 2, which also equals 11).

Though most people know that Feb. 29 comes once a quadrennium, not everyone knows why it arrives.

It happens because Julius Caesar rearranged the calendar in 46 B.C. to put it more in step with natural events. The 366th day every four years makes up for the time lost each year when the Earth’s actual 365 1/4-day cycle to revolve around the sun is counted as only 365 days.

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Now leap years are a cyclical mainstay, coming in those years exactly divisible by the number four, or by 400 in the final year of the century.

And Feb. 29 has its share of famous folks with birthdays on that day, such as musician Jimmy Dorsey, “Barber of Seville” composer Gioacchino A. Rossini and fashion designer Willi Smith.

When Anaheim City Treasurer Mary Turner was a little girl, she never had the confusing leap-year-day birthday experienced by many youngsters who don’t understand why they have a real birthday only once every four years.

Turner, who will be 14 Saturday, always had a big bash as a child, and she’s continued that partying practice into her adult years.

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One year, Turner formed an Orange County birthday club for leap-year-day babies, though she laments that support group hasn’t flourished quite as well as she had hoped. Another year, her colleagues in Anaheim threw her a special shindig and joked that she was the county’s only “kiddie treasurer.”

“I’ve always had a lot of fun with my birthdays,” said Turner. And she adds proudly, “This will be the last year I won’t be older than my daughter,” referring to her teen-age girl.

More often than not, say those born on leap year day, they have rotten birthdays because people forget, since Feb. 29 only rolls around ever four years.

Says Turner, “I get sympathy cards on the years I don’t have a birthday.”

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Howard Frechen, a Los Alamitos computer specialist who is either 12 or 48 depending on how you count, says he tried to get out of the draft, “but Uncle Sam didn’t take leap year into consideration.”

Like left-handed people, leap-year-day babies are a minority that does things differently.

For instance, Hallmark Cards, which makes 2,665 different types of birthday cards, has none for those who celebrate officially Feb. 29.

“We have in the past,” said Hallmark spokeswoman Sherry Timbrook, “but there hasn’t been a demand to keep them in the line.”

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The company does, however, offer its computer printout card called “Birthday News,” a one-sheet page of anecdotal tidbits about the day, for Feb. 29 birthdays.

Also, a birthday book titled “Your Birthday February 29,” is made by New York-based Natalis press, which sells the bright, fact-filled hardbacks for each day of the year.

“Well, there are people born on that day,” Natalis spokeswoman Gina Leone said of the company’s decision to make a book for leap-year-day birthdays.

“From the beginning, we got a lot of calls from people saying, ‘This is great. But what about leap year (day)?’ ” Leone said. “So when it came around to when we were ready to print those, we did it.”

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Despite adjusting and perfecting the calendar over the years, some experts say there still need to be some changes. They point out that the calendar is now 26 seconds off the solar year--the Earth’s revolution around the sun--and we’ll soon have an extra day if no one takes care of it.

Those theorists suggest that if we omitted leap year day once every 128 years, we could put off that unwanted additional day for 100,000 years.

Go figure.

Times staff writer David Haldane contributed to this story.

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