Believing is Seeing

I have a grandnephew turning three years old today.  Being born on Valentine’s Day seems special, but the “holiday-ness” of his birthday seems even more striking knowing that his father, my nephew Joey, is a “Leap Year baby”.  As I thought about this, I wondered whether Joey’s perspective on birthdays and aging was impacted in a way I’d never thought to ask him about. So I called him and we chatted about it.

As a precursor to my take on our conversation, I’ll say that I often wonder about the importance of perspective, and how lacking understanding of another person’s perspective often leads to confusion and frustration.  Seeing this occur daily not only between divorcing couples, but between lawyers, and between clients and their lawyers, I think it’s worth stopping to ask, “What’s your perspective on this?” 

As for my nephew, he told me his feelings about being a Leap Year baby had definitely changed over time. When he was a young child, he didn’t like it and felt it was unfair. People were cheeky with him about his age, saying things like “you’re acting old for your age”, while he never considered himself to be younger on account of his birthdate, as he counted revolutions around the sun. He noted the injustice famously sung about in the Pirates of Penzance, when Frederic’s indenture papers committed him to remain a pirate until his 21st birthday, not until his 21st year, resulting in his servitude until turning eighty-four!

And he talked about the Gregorian and astronomical calendars and their need for corrections every hundred years, and the millennium rule to address what would otherwise be a one-day-per century drift such that years ending in “00” are not leap years unless they can divide exactly by four-hundred. Therefore 2000 was a leap year (while 1900 was not), so he felt grateful, like he got a bonus birthday that year, and said in retrospect it would have felt like an insult if he hadn’t gotten it.  But he was quick to quip that I was catching him on a Leap year, and he might feel differently if we were having our conversation in a non-Leap year.

All in all, he said every fourth year birthdays feel really special.  And he added that from the time he turned ten until he was about thirty, he decided having a Leap Year birthday was extra special and therefore should be celebrated for four days each February as he only got to have an actual date of celebration every four years.  I’m not sure I understand his logic, but you’ve got to love how he made lemonade out of what had previously seemed to him to be lemons. He also told me he feels it’s important in a Leap Year to celebrate on the 29th, and cited having taken umbrage when this year, as it falls on a Thursday, a friend suggested he celebrate on the weekend. “Not pushing it to the weekend” was his response.

So despite as a young child having felt his birthdate was unfair, as an adult he’s embraced the uniqueness of the day, saying he thinks it’s sort of fun to have something special and uncommon about himself. While his perspective has changed, mine has remained constant as to me he’s always been special, and there’s nothing common about him.

So what about his son? Recalling three years ago today, he told me Valentine’s Day was the last thing on his mind. But thinking about it now he said he’s always seen Valentine’s Day as a “Hallmark holiday” not a real one, although he recognizes his wife sees it differently and is careful with her to acknowledge the symbolism of the day with chocolate and flowers.

As for his son’s birthday this year, he said Sesame Street was the party theme, although they’d thrown in a few hearts for good measure. He mused that as his son grew older he hoped they’d continue to honor his interests and that they’d take precedence over his birthday falling on Valentine’s Day. He reflected on how selfish interests tend to wither when you have kids, so Valentine’s Day really doesn’t matter to him now so much as the 14th being his son’s birthday. Considering the future, he said he could imagine at some point how his son might feel cheated out of a birthday and that all the hearts and flowers could be annoying, or how he could grow to embrace it. He said he thought more about the difficulties of having a winter birthday in contrast to his other son who has a carefree summer birthday. Again, perspective matters. I’ve known many people with summer birthdays who thought they were unfair as between travel and camp schedules, finding a good party day was hard.

Joey’s final comment was that “Attitude matters more than any conflict about the day. It’s your day to celebrate and it should be all about you doing that, and as you get older you realize the date doesn’t really matter” (unless of course it’s the 29th !)

Perspective matters.

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