Being a Leap Year baby keeps you young

Melissa Reep

Melissa Reep Courtesy

Melissa Reep was born on a leap year, Feb. 29, 1972. While she's lived more than 50 years, Thursday will be her 13th actual birthday.

Melissa Reep was born on a leap year, Feb. 29, 1972. While she's lived more than 50 years, Thursday will be her 13th actual birthday. Courtesy

Liz Littell of Center Harbor works out in her fitness center in Meredith on Feb. 28.

Liz Littell of Center Harbor works out in her fitness center in Meredith on Feb. 28. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

 Liz Littell in 1982.

Liz Littell in 1982. COURTESY—

By RAY DUCKLER

Monitor columnist

Published: 02-28-2024 5:07 PM

Modified: 02-29-2024 6:03 PM


Melissa Reep’s father thought he was funny each time he showed his daughter the calendar and asked her to point to her birthday.

She’d flip to February and move her finger down to the last day of the month and find that it was missing more often than not because of something odd in outer space.

“I’d see my birthday wasn’t there,” said Reep, who lives in Concord. “He’d laugh. He did it for years.”

For Liz Littell of Center Harbor, her two older sisters, Sarah and Jane, mercilessly tormented her because of the odd circumstances connected to someone whose birth date falls on Feb. 29 – a Leap Year.

“(My sisters) would tell me I didn’t have a birthday,” Littell said. “I was emotionally scarred by not having a birthday. And when I was eight they’d tell me that I was only two because I’d only had two birthdays. I would cry; I got very upset and I still recall it.”

Littell laughed when mentioning the wounds she had suffered, adding that she was exaggerating the harmful effect her sisters’ taunting had had on her. But those born in a Leap Year are marked for the rest of their lives as individuals with a quirky, cosmic sort of story to tell.

A Leap Year, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “exists to ensure our calendars align with Earth’s orbit, which in turn ensures our calendar aligns with our seasons. It takes Earth 365.2422 days to orbit the sun, so, not quite the 365 days. Four years’ worth of that time roughly equals a full day, and therefore, leap day gets added to the calendar.”

To folks like Reep and Littell, however, the scientific meaning of a Leap Year takes a back seat to their family stories about a childhood of confusion and alienation that evolved into a birth date with special appeal for adults born on Feb. 29.

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Littell owns a fitness studio in Meredith. She’s 56 on Thursday. Or, if you prefer, she’ll be 14. Reep, a Concord native, visiting nurse and former Monitor Hometown Hero, turns 52 on Thursday. Or 13 in Leap Years.

As adults, they enjoy perks.

“Each four years, my pediatrician sends me a birthday card because I was the only patient he had who was a Leap Year baby,” Littell said. “I’ve met people with this birthday. My friend’s dog, Barco, was a Leap Year dog. We celebrated together.”

Littell said she and others who share this phenomena have bonded.

“Oh yeah, there are maybe three or four I know who I still think about and wonder how they’re doing,” Littell said. “It’s a weird little connection.”

She’s taken full advantage at carnivals, saying she’s won stuffed animals and other prizes because the carnival employees who bet they can guess her age are never correct.

“They can try to guess and I always win,” Littell said. “If they guess 36, I can say, ‘No, I’m 9.’ ”

Meanwhile, Reep was invited to join the studio audience for Martha Stewart’s TV show a few years back, focusing on Leap Year babies.

“There was a chef on stage who cooked us frog legs,” Reep said.

But the most entertaining memories from our Leap Year ladies stemmed from their pre-school and grade-school years. Like when Reep’s father asked her to point to her birthday on the calendar.

“He’d laugh, and he did it for like 25 years,” Reep said. “When I was young, I’d circle (the 29th) when it was there, or if the date wasn’t there, I would write it in.”

For Littell, her mother gave her frog gifts on her documented birthdays – frog pins, frog earrings, a five-foot-tall stuffed animal frog that was “a little creepy.” Her mother died two years ago, making Thursday Littell’s first Leap Year birthday without her mom.

“After my birthday,” Littell said, “my mom would stash frog gifts over the next four years. I have a lot of frog stuff.”

Their childhood memories, as well as their adult years, are filled with stories that few can tell. Funny stories, confusing stories, even scary stories.

Of course, if viewed in a certain light, Leap Year babies remain young at heart. Longer than most.

“You can be looking at things a little differently,” Littell said. “Like when I was 16, I was 4. And when I was 24, I was 6. I’ve been growing older so slowly.”