Happy (belated) Leap Day

Yesterday was my daughter’s first Leap Day. I tried to explain the concept to her, but got a bit hung up in the details. I had the vague sense this extra day existed to correct for some kind of basic imperfection in the fit between the earth’s orbit around the sun and the system we use to account for that movement, the calendar year. But looking it up, I found this language for it, which I love: “Because seasons and astronomical events do not repeat in a whole number of days, a calendar that had the same number of days in each year would, over time, drift with respect to the event it was supposed to track” (from Wikipedia, my emphasis).

I love this idea. I love the attention this language calls to the strange circulo-linear fact of the calendar year. I love the notion of drift. I also love calendars, themselves—by the way—and have two of them right now. One beside my bed, with black and white photographs by the French photographer Robert Doisneau—this is the one I use to orient myself when I wake up, to see the shape of my life unfolding week by week—and one on the side of my fridge, a big colourful erasable one, the kind intended for a classroom. “A mom calendar,” as my friend calls it. This is the one where I write down things like “sort J’s clothes” and “skating?” and “brush dog.”

Robert Doisneau, "La poterne des peupliers, Paris 1934"

Robert Doisneau, "La poterne des peupliers, Paris 1934"

I’m a bit totemic about dates, anniversaries of all kinds. I always write well on my birthday, on the anniversaries of my parents’ deaths—mostly because these dates call out deep feeling in me. This month—the month of March—is traditionally a difficult month for me. My dad died in March. It’s a seasonal thing. When my friends lose people they love, I remember the dates. I write to them a year later. Because we cycle through these things again and again.

For many years, I simply accepted the difficulty of March. But in recent years, I’ve been rebelling a bit. I’ve been wishing to create a calendar with a bit more joy in it, a few arbitrary, personal holidays/celebrations. I’m a bit of a hopeless gardener, but my old roommate’s a horticultural therapist—so why not plan my garden each year on D’s birthday, which falls at the time of year the annual seed catalogue arrives? I suggested this to her in my birthday letter this year, and a few days ago I opened my mailbox to find a beautiful envelope containing blue pages folded around small clear envelopes of seeds marked with species names and the dates of their collection.

I had the idea I would organize some Leap Day festivities at my house this year. Perhaps some leaping, is really all that I was thinking. I hadn’t gotten very far, but a three-year-old is not too hard to please. For all this, though, somehow the idea didn’t quite, as it were, get off the ground.

“How could you not find time in a day to do some leaping?” you might ask.

Yes, how indeed.

I remember, acutely, the first time I wished to slip outside of time—it was the summer I was nineteen, I had a room in a shared apartment with a balcony overlooking a parkade, and I spent all my time lying on my bed or smoking on the balcony and feeling, generally, that things could be solved if only there were more time, if only I could slip off somewhere into what I called in my notebook then “the space between days.”

Alas, as Leap Day proves, time is still time, even when there’s more of it.

I think, after all, I celebrated Leap Day perfectly. Let it from here on in be a day to celebrate the “drift with respect to” what I’ve intended. A day once every four years to say, hey, maybe with all the time in the world some things still can’t be solved. A day for acknowledging the erasable days.

A day to practice leaping, falling down.

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