Labor Day is a special kind of portal in the calendar year.
Pools close and schools open. More than the first day of spring or even Memorial Day, Labor Day is the slamming of the door on one season and the beginning of another.
A new school year is a fresh start in a way that New Year's Day cannot match. It is new shoes and a new teacher and a chance to begin again. Even if your children are grown and gone, the first day of school still has that hint of promise: remembering the scent of freshly sharpened pencils, seeing the school buses lumbering through your neighborhood.
We probably spend almost as much getting ready for fall as we do getting ready for Christmas. The school supply list is longer every year (tissues and hand sanitizer?), and the children seem to have grown three sizes over the summer.
Don't forget the college kids. Properly decorating a dorm room or an off-campus apartment takes more than a few Indian tapestries, a pair of orange crates and a lava lamp. And even grade-schoolers are getting new laptops.
The lines at the grocery store are inexplicably long and the carts are over-full, considering the fact that those same children will actually be away from the refrigerator for eight hours a day.
Everybody has straight A's on Labor Day. Everybody's football team is still eligible for the championship game. Everybody's soccer team is undefeated. And your favorite player still has a chance to break into the starting line-up.
Is there any other day in the calendar like it?
The resolutions we make on Labor Day are more meaningful than those we will make in a few months. Hot food for dinner every night as the family sits down — together! Homework before television or video games. Reading every night.
And that perennial favorite: It is time to get back to the gym.
Hurricane Irene cut more than power to our homes last week. It reduced the heat and humidity suddenly and to a degree we almost never feel here in the Mid-Atlantic, land of the endless Indian Summer.
For a few days at least, we had the crisp evenings and the cool, sunny mornings of a true autumn, and the surge of energy that comes when you aren't battling the weather. It is the same kind of energy you feel when the season changes and you know that whatever came before is gone, and the future is a clean slate.
Labor Day also represents the end of the free-wheeling chaos of summer. Of course, school events and sports seasons bring their own brand of calendar congestion. But, for some of us at least, summer feels like a free-fall, like a room without walls, like a day without a sunset. And that can be unsettling. The routine of fall can be as cozy as those pictures in an L.L. Bean catalog.
I love the sounds of fall, too. The crickets and the cicadas. The rustle of crisp leaves. The muffled roar of the crowd at a nearby football stadium. The notable absence of the hum of an air conditioner. The sounds of the world entering, like the breeze, through an open window.
I don't think I am alone in my fondness for Labor Day. Lots of people claim to like fall above the other seasons. But I think they like the moderation of fall. The cooling off, the slowing down, the turning inward.
Me? I like the possibilities of fall. I like its potential, the opportunity to begin again.
Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.