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A birthday every 4 years: Leap Year babies share their ups and downs

Nellie Parke is about to celebrate her tenth birthday. Yet she's turning 40. Such is the life of a Leap Year baby, born on Feb. 29.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

Nellie Parke is about to celebrate her tenth birthday. Yet she's turning 40. Such is the life of a Leap Year baby, born on Leap Day, Feb. 29, a day that only comes around every four years (including this year).

Parke, who lives in Maryland, never felt cheated by her unusual birthday — on the contrary, she loved having a unique date to celebrate. Her late father encouraged the Leap Day love, she told TODAY.

"On the 'off' years, he would call me on February 28th and say, 'I know your birthday isn't until tomorrow, but I didn't want to miss it,' Parke remembers. "Then, on March first, he'd call and say, "Oh honey, I'm sorry I missed your birthday."

IMAGE: Nellie Parke
Nellie Parke is seen here at her second birthday party -- although it wasn't a Leap Year, so she didn't get to celebrate on Feb. 29.

Parke says she usually celebrated her birthday on Feb. 28, but the world of legal documents didn't always play along. The year she turned 21, she tried to upgrade her driver's license, but even though she was born on the last day of February, had to wait until March.

And once when Parke was in her late 20s, a liquor-store cashier looked at her license and didn't quite clue in.

"She said, 'Your license has a mistake,' Parke remembers. "'It says your birthday is February 29th and there isn't one.' She apparently thought that because the day only comes every four years, no one is born on that day!"

The birthday helps make her memorable. "People tend to remember your birthday when you're born on February 29th because it is unique, so Leap Years usually bring even more greetings," Parke told TODAY. "The year I turned 6/24, a friend saw all of my birthday cards and said, 'Wow, that's a lot of birthday cards. I'm lucky if I get one, and that's if my Mom remembers!'"

IMAGE: Nellie Parke
Nellie Parke at her fifth birthday party. It wasn't a Leap Year, but that didn't stop the celebration.

And it also gives her two ages to joke about. She remembers telling a grandson she was nine, marking the actual times Feb. 29 has come around, but he wasn't buying it. "(He would say), 'G-Nellie, if I'm seven, you can't be only nine. You have to be older than nine,'" Parke says. "He thinks it's funny and so do I."

Patti Langer, of Milwaukee, will be turning 60 this Leap Day — or 15, depending on how you count. She's enjoyed her unusual birthday too, and took advantage of the strange date to stretch out her celebrations.

"I would usually celebrate on February 28 AND the nearest weekend," Langer told TODAY. "I didn't just have one day, my birthday went on for days."

IMAGE:Patti Langer
Patti Langer is a Leap Day baby.

Leap Years, when her actual Feb. 29 birthday came around, were even more special. Husband Jeff went all out to make it special. One memorable year he rented a van and a group of friends took a house tour with the couple, with one friend keeping the ride lively by playing guitar. This year, the couple and their far-flung children and grandchildren are spending an entire week together. "It's very hard these days to get everyone together so this special occasion was the impetus to do this," she said.

Langer recalls reading about the small town of Anthony, Texas, which calls itself the Leap Year Capital of the World, and hosts a festival each Leap Year. Members of the Worldwide Leap Year Birthday Club travel to Anthony to celebrate with other Feb. 29 babies. "Unfortunately, I was never able to attend," Langer said.

IMAGE: Patti Langer and family
Patti Langer and her husband, Jeff, hold their twin grandsons.

The unusual birthday worked out well for Langer, but the woman who gave birth to her worried about it. "My mom always felt unnecessarily guilty about my Leap Year birthday," Langer told TODAY. "Of course, she had no choice in the matter, but she always made sure it was a special day."

Some parents might think a Leap Day baby will get cheated, but Melissa Therrien of Blaine, Minn., who's expecting right around that date, wouldn't mind at all.

Therrien and her husband started dating on Feb. 29, 2004, and he proposed on Feb. 29, 2008. His proposal came complete with a sweet journal offering snapshots of where the couple might be on future Leap Days. And because she is expecting their third child a week after this Feb. 29, they might just be in the delivery room.

IMAGE: Leap Day journal
Melissa Therrien's husband proposed on Leap Day 2008 with a journal imagining where they might be on future Leap Days, with a cutout on the final page for her engagement ring.Courtesy of Melissa Therrien

"I'd feel a little bad for our kiddo if he or she has a Leap Day birthday, but I'd secretly love it and would do my best to make it the most special day and story," Therrien told TODAY. "We would just have to celebrate on Feb. 28 during the off-years, something my husband and I had to do for four years."