WHAT, YOU mean to say that the children are starting school again? That's outrageous. And summer is, for all practical purposes, over? Education is a splendid thing, but there are supposed to be two full months between the Fourth of July and Labor Day. This year there were only -- well, how do you remember it? Three weeks? Four, at the outside. Someone seems to have stolen part of the calendar. Call the police.

The precipitous and unexpected arrival of the Labor Day weekend draws attention to the larger issue of the sudden unaccountable time losses that afflict our society. In the past it has frequently occurred in the weeks before Christmas, when you abruptly discover that there are no shopping days left. And it has also happened before April 15. But now the phenomenon has spread into other parts of the year. What's required is a team of auditors vigilantly on 24-hour duty to ensure that no one tampers with the dates while the rest of us are out to lunch, or down at the beach.

The inexplicable loss of those weeks is particularly painful because the weather this summer was, by Washington standards, positively pleasant. True, it was miserably sticky and intolerable, but less miserably sticky and intolerable than usual. Only one day set an all-time high temperature record. As summers normally go, here on our southern alluvial plain, it was memorable. Now you say that it's gone, and the yellow school buses are back on the road.

The yellow school buses occupy an important place in the symbolism of American life. They are a reminder that life has its serious, nonsummer aspects. They speak of multiplication tables and geography, as opposed to picnic lunches and sand castles. But geography has its charms, and, to look at the more hopeful side of the calendar situation, the finest of this city's seasons comes next. After a hiatus devoted mainly to hay fever, the weather will turn. The air will grow sharp and clear. Your spirits will rise, even if you are on one of those yellow buses and even if you feel in your heart that you do not have a precise grasp of 8x7. When that happens, everyone will share in a public responsibility to see that none of those weeks slips away unmarked, as they did this past summer.