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Writing Portfolio – The Leapling Chronicles

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The Leapling Chronicles – Feb. 25, 2012

The Caledonian-Record
by Leah Carey
Staff Writer

Virginia Frye and her grandson are both turning 17 this year. How in the world is that possible?

Frye, who lives in Danville, is a leap year baby. Her grandson is not. The grandmother has only one birthday for each of the grandson’s four.

A few years ago, she was the same age as her 16-year-old granddaughter. “When they were little, they couldn’t figure it out,” Frye laughed. “What do you mean, you’re only 5?”

Emily LaFlam of Littleton was also born on Feb. 29, 1944, and will be turning 17 on Wednesday. “I remember as a kid that my family and kids at school would say ‘we only get to spank you two times.’ Then they’d give me one to grow on.”

In the years between her leap year birthdays, LaFlam said her family always celebrated her birthday on the last day of February. “I wasn’t born in March,” she explained. But on years like this one, when she gets to celebrate on the actual anniversary of her birth, it adds a little extra excitement for her. “We haven’t done any hoopla, but it does feel special on the real one.”

Frye’s children threw her a big rock ‘n roll bash for her “Sweet 16” four years ago. “They just had everything from the 50s era. It was a surprise party, but I had to change my clothes into a poodle skirt. They insisted on that once they surprised me. They had Fonzie there. It was really fun and they put a lot of thought and work into it.”

Both Frye and LaFlam say that when they were kids their families didn’t make a big deal about each fourth birthday. LaFlam remembers the year she was 16, her father sent her out of the room and put a cupcake on the table with four candles in it.

Frye said that although her classmates were aware of the oddity of her birthday, “it was probably no big deal to them. … Probably the kids thought that as long as you got invited to the birthday party, it didn’t matter. It’s not easy for children to understand what makes that different and why you only have one birthday every four years.”

“I’m not old enough to drink yet,” laughed Frye. “I said when I was 16 that I was old enough to drive. When I turned 13 I couldn’t start dating again because I’d been married for so many years.” But ultimately, Frye said, age is a state of mind. “You’re as old as you feel.”

LaFlam jokes that people told her husband that he was robbing the cradle. This year he will be 70 to her 17.

Having a birthday once every four years allows LaFlam just the right amount of celebrity for her taste. “I stand out a little bit from the crowd and get a little bit of attention. I’ve always been a shy person, so it’s a day when I can shine on my birthday.” Four years ago her church put a notice in the bulletin wishing her a “Happy sweet 16 — again!”

Four years ago Frye and LaFlam met as a result of their birthday quirk. “I saw [Frye’s] picture that her daughters put in the newspaper for her sweet 16,” said LaFlam. “I sent her a card that said, ‘From one teenager to another.’” They’ve kept in touch through cards ever since, but have not yet met in person.

“It’s funny how you connect with people,” said Frye. “My son-in-law’s brother-in-law is also a leap year baby. There’s not many, but I always look in the paper to see if there are any leap year babies born.”

One of the birth announcements she might have seen in the Caledonian-Record was Ryan Collins of Newport. He is a recent initiate into the leap-year baby club. He was born at Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital on Feb. 29, 2004. This year he will turn eight — or two, depending on how you’re counting.

His mom, Johanne Collins, wasn’t anticipating a leap-year baby. “I was due on the 26th of February, I think. I wasn’t thinking about it.” When she went into labor on Feb. 29, she still didn’t think she’d have a leap year baby because the labor with her older son Brendon had been 42 hours. “With Ryan my labor was six hours. It ended up being a Cesarean section.” And with that, another leapling was born.

The Collins don’t make a big deal about Ryan’s out-of-the-ordinary birthday, but he understands the significance. “He teases himself about being two,” said Johanne. “He’ll say, ‘Well I’m still little, I’m never going to get old.’ He thinks he’ll always stay young!”

This year Ryan’s family is planning a special outing to the Jay Peak water park for his birthday.

Emily LaFlam plans to spend it with her family, probably having dinner out with her son and his wife.

Virginia Frye doesn’t know what her birthday will bring because her husband has been in the hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock for the last week. “I’m not in a birthday mood this year. It’s not a priority.”

There are multiple websites and Facebook groups dedicated to people who were born on Feb. 29 including leapyearday.com and http://www.facebook.com/hslydb, which is the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies.

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