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For those with leap year birthdays, only the jokes get old

Chris Schneider, a "leapling" seen here in his

Chris Schneider, a "leapling" seen here in his Seaford home Thursday, was born on Feb. 29 and will be 40 years old Saturday ... or only 10, if you just count the actual birthdays he's had. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Chris Schneider has heard all the jokes. You’re too young to drive. I’d buy you a drink but you’re underage. What kind of toy do you want for your birthday?

For Schneider and other leaplings — that’s people born on Feb. 29, a date that comes once every four years — leap day birthday humor is virtually unavoidable.

Leaplings generally keep two sets of ages: annual and quadrennial, allowing for sigh-inducing jokes where friends at least attempt to divide their actual age by 4.

But leap day babies, who finally get to celebrate their actual birthday on Saturday, say the occasion provides both an opportunity to revel in what makes them different and a reminder that, because of a calendar quirk, they will stay forever young.

“Every leap year I hear from people that I haven’t spoken to in four years because they remember me from my birthday,” said Schneider, who serves as spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.

Schneider is turning 40 (or 10) on Saturday and plans to spend the day at home in Seaford celebrating with his family, including his wife and two children.

Not surprisingly, leaplings are uncommon. So unique, in fact, that the odds of being born on Feb. 29 are 1 in 1,461 (0.068 % of the population) — or roughly the same odds as being born with an extra finger or toe. Only about 5 million leaplings exist across the globe and fewer than 200,000 in the United States.

While a curiosity for most of the population, leap day serves an actual purpose. The extra day gets crammed into the calendar once every four years to synchronize time systems and account for the Earth spinning around the sun five hours, 48 minutes, and 45 seconds longer than 365 days.

But having your birthday land in no man’s land on the Gregorian calendar presents leaplings with the ultimate dilemma. In common, or non-leap years, do you celebrate your birthday on Feb. 28 or March 1?

Schneider, a former spokesman for ex-GOP State Sens. Charles Fuschillo, Jack Martins and Elaine Phillips, is decidedly a “28ther.”

“I was born on the last day of February and not in March,” he explained.

Julia Duffy, a Penn State sophomore who grew up in Stony Brook, settled on March 1 — her grandfather’s birthday is Feb. 28 — although she takes every opportunity to celebrate on both dates.

Duffy, who will turn 20 (or 5) on Saturday, says she relishes the distinct nature of her birthday.

“It’s part of what makes me unique,” said Duffy, who plans to celebrate with campus friends. “It’s a conversation starter and a great way to remember me by.”

Matthew Donno, a real estate broker from Manhasset turning 36 (or 9), said he splits the difference and begins celebrating at noon on the 28th, with the party continuing through noon on March 1. 

Donno, who plans to spend his birthday skiing with his family in Killington, Vermont, said that as a child he disliked having a leap day birthday because of a sense that he was missing out on authentic birthday celebrations.

But as an adult, he has taken to making the quadrennial birthdays increasingly "extravagant," from dinner at a Michelin Star restaurant with his girlfriend to taking his close friends to Dave & Buster's for a night out playing video games.

"At this point, I find it to be a net positive," Donno said of leap day birthdays.

But leaplings concede that being born on Feb. 29 can also be a nuisance.

The Department of Motor Vehicles routinely asks leaplings to renew their driver’s license on dates that don’t exist. Facebook only recently fixed a quirk in its algorithm that failed to alert users to their friends’ Feb. 29 birthdays.

And what to do when, like Duffy, you are set to turn 21 in a non-leap year? Wait till March 1 or push the envelope and show up at the bar on the 28th and hope to get a friendly bouncer?

“I’ll definitely go a day early,” Duffy said.

But there are also perks. Many local and national businesses offer deals, from free doughnuts to discounted cruise tickets, to people born on Feb. 29 — although cashing out birthday redemptions in non-leap years can be tricky, some say. Persuading the Starbucks barista to give you a free birthday latte on a date that doesn’t exist is easier said than done.

And then there is the ribbing from friends and family. The kids who argue they are older than their dad. And how mom looks way too old for her age.

“I do enjoy having a leap year birthday,” Schneider said. “It’s fun and can certainly be a positive. But the jokes do get old.”

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