As kids at Lynndale Elementary gathered around Diane Grossenbacher to offer early birthday wishes, she joked about something she looks forward to: “Isn’t it fun? In four years I’ll have my sweet 16.”
Grossenbacher, the Lynnwood school’s office manager, will celebrate a birthday Saturday — her 15th. Born Feb. 29, 1960, she’ll be 60.
“Leap Year Baby Born in Car,” says a headline on a brief newspaper article Grossenbacher’s mother saved. Possibly from a Bellevue paper, it tells the tale of “Little Miss Feldmeir’s debut.” The daughter of Robert and Jan Feldmeir, Grossenbacher was born just after her father pulled their car over to the shoulder of 104th Avenue Southeast in Bellevue.
Bellevue police patrolman R.F. Davis arrived at the scene that leap day and made sure an ambulance took the baby and mom to Providence Hospital in Seattle, the article said.
Leap years, according to NASA calculations, account for the fact that from vernal equinox to vernal equinox — almost but not quite the time it takes Earth to orbit the sun — is 365.2422 days. That extra day, Feb. 29 every four years, makes the calendar line up with the seasons.
Consistent calendars and seasons were important for religious festivals timed to an equinox or solstice. The Julian calendar, created in 46 BCE (Before Common Era) by Roman dictator Julius Caesar, inserted one day every four years. Over the centuries, it wasn’t enough.
The Gregorian calendar, created in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII, is more complex: A day is added every four years, except those divisible by 100, when February has just 28 days — with the further exception of years divisible by 400. Those are leap years.
So 1700, 1800 and 1900 weren’t leap years. But 2000 was, and 2400 will be.
Got it? Let’s get back to Lynndale teacher Sally D’Ault’s third- and fourth-grade classroom. On Wednesday, the class welcomed Grossenbacher and gave her an early birthday card. She turned her visit into a quick math lesson.
“Kids will say, ‘How old are you?’ and I’ll say ‘I’m 15,’” Grossenbacher said before stopping by D’Ault’s room. The next question she inevitably hears is: How old are you really? “I’ll say, ‘You have to do the math,’” she said.
Kids crowded around her Wednesday asking other questions. One wondered what day she celebrates when it’s not leap year. “February 28,” she said. “I don’t go into March.”
This month, Grossenbacher said, “we’ve been doing leap year jokes with the kids.” Fourth-grader Quinn Flack offered a riddle as an example: “What do kids play on leap year?” the girl asked, then answered it herself: “Hopscotch.”
In Everett, Elissa Blood will turn 40 Saturday — on what’s just her 10th birthday.
Her mother said Thursday that when she was expecting her fourth child in 1980, she didn’t know the exact due date. “We had no idea, no ultrasound,” Anita Blood said. “We had a boy first, and three girls. She’s the baby — the little red caboose. She ends up being a redhead on leap day.”
Elissa Blood is now an author and illustrator of children’s books, “Doug the Pug” among them. Her pen name is E.B. Jane. “She’s just very special,” her mother said.
Growing up, Elissa had a party every year. “But every four years, she had a big one,” Anita Blood said.
One of her biggest parties was four years ago. Elissa Blood’s daughter Tessa, now 13, has a Feb. 20 birthday. “Four years ago, Tessa turned 9,” said Anita Blood, adding that Tessa’s mom’s ninth birthday was nine days later. “That was pretty cool.”
Grossenbacher, who each Wednesday wears a “Make Kindness Normal” T-shirt, said a friend is having a brunch for her on Saturday. It’s a presidential election year, an Olympics year, and the year of her “big 6-0,” she said — “so it’s really big.”
“It’s just more honoring than an everyday birthday,” Grossenbacher said. “It’s kind of a rite of passage.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.