It's always over so suddenly. We hit the end of summer like a traffic jam on Labor Day and are automatically lined up to go through the toll booth of another year.
Our biorhythms have way to sociorhythms so long ago that we're now as geared up for the first day of school as any 6-year-old. No matter what the calendar says, no matter what the thermostat says, ready or not, fall is here.
From now on, any warm day will be hoarded rather than savored, and our summer experience will be reduced to 2" x 2" Kodachrome slides and 8" x 11" essays of what we did on our vacation.
In a matter of days we will have completely covered up our tans with schedules and put on the layered look of obligations. We will all be carrying fall accessories like dentist appointments and sign-up sheets for music lessons.
The speed with which we do our fall cleaning - sweeping summer out of our lives as if it were sand - has always amazed me. It looks as if we fear that one more minute or month of ease and we would all become permanently flacid. Instead, September becomes our national tone-up month.
We hand our kids new allowances and responsibilities. Our relationship with them becomes slightly crisp, as definitive as an alarm clock and dogged as a home-room study monitor.
And for ourselves, we put on new expectations like shoes. This year, we say, carefully avoiding puddles, getting upset at the idea of a scuff mark, will be different. Again we divise our New Year's resolutions and agendas, going through the harshest sort of self-appraisal and the highest demands for self-improvement.
Were we as indulgent as a paperback mystery novel this summer? In September we are determined to conquer the classics. Did we let things slide this August? Now we will accomplish.
We become September people - purposeful people with notebooks and index cards, goals and plans. We march into the serious season, sure that we are finally measured by what we accomplish.
Well, I am hardly immune to this attack of fall. My own New year's list of resolutions is halfway between my mind and my kitchen cork board. The sense of fresh expectations and new possibilities that comes with this change is a kind of nervous pleasure.
But there is something about summer I want to hold onto. What I did on my summer vacation was "less." Plan less. Expect less. It's what most of us do every suammer, I suppose. We put our agendas into hibernation. Breakfast becomes optional and dinner is debatable, and we don't need to make sure that there is exact change in the school lunch cup.
The time with our kids and each other is less geared to getting things done, to making home improvments, than to being together. Between school there is less for them to forget or fail and less for us to judge.
Our feelings for each other seem to expand, like daylight-saving time. We let things go. We let things be.
At work, there is a general permission slip given for some slippage and slowdown. Internally, we get a reprieve from the harsh demands of self. We think less about the future and more about the weather.
Perhaps it's inevitable that we put a bottom line on this relaxation and call it Labor Day. Perhaps it's inevitable that the turning point is school. Without an end, summer might be less like a vacation and more like unemployment.
But I'm always afraid that by the middle of September we may have forgotten the value of enjoying rather than pursuing. Our capacity to do less, to accept more, may begin to look like a breach of standards. It may remind us of a summer romance with a beach boy who looked dreadful in city clothes.
Maybe what we need is a brief pause, a transition instead of a collision, between seasons. Before we entirely lose the sense of well-being that comes from being, before the serious season peaks and carries us away on some list or other, maybe we could make one final small resolution: To keep a little more "less" in this new year.