THE BEARS IN Yosemite National Park have been unusually rowdy this summer.

In the Curry Village parking lot on an average night, there are half a dozen break-ins - cars or trucks with windows smashed and doors peeled back as if they'd been attacked by a giant can opener.I don't know if the bears are getting smarter or the tourists are getting dumber.

I'm standing in line at the office, waiting to check into the only housing available tonight: a canvas tent cabin with no heat, no plumbing and no place to hide from bears.

I will never tire of this valley. I've been here countless times as a tourist. Tonight, I'm here as a mom.

I've come to see Nate, my youngest, who is working this summer as a groundskeeper in the park, sleeping in employee housing (a tent like the one I'll sleep in tonight) and eating in the cafeteria.

It's like college, he says, without homework. He's happy as a clam. And I am happy for him. Except, well, I miss him. Which brings me to tonight.

"I'll need your license plate number," says the desk clerk, "so we can notify you if a bear breaks into your car." Then she recites a litany of warnings I will summarize as: "LEAVE NOTHING, ZIP, NADA IN YOUR CAR OR A BEAR WILL SNIFF IT OUT AND YOU'LL BE REALLY SORRY."

Suddenly, I spot Nate - all 6-feet 3-inches of him, grinning at me the way he always did whenever I'd pick him up after school - and I forget all about the car.

He carries my bag to my tent and gets extra blankets in case I need them. I will. I can already see my breath.

Then we get pizza. He pays with his employee discount. I tell him it's nice to have friends in high places. He laughs, but I am serious.

Next morning, I will meet him for breakfast, kiss him goodbye and head home. But when I wake up, the first thing I do is check my car.

Except for the bug fur, it is fine, thank you, God. Which is more than I can say for a Cadillac and a Buick and three others that the bears turned into picnic baskets.

And if your baby wants to leave you, let him go.

Just let him go.

Bears and babies have to do what they will.