Molly Cavanaugh (mug 2)

Molly Cavanaugh of Channel 94.1 FM’s Big Party Show in Omaha is a mom to two children living in Chicago. She writes weekly for Read more from Molly »

We just completed the first leg of our annual summer road trip to Omaha, and the phrase that best captures the spirit of our trek is this: “Keep your hands to yourself!”

In fact, that’s a phrase I’ve uttered a lot recently.

I’m sure all siblings go through this eventually, but my kids have only just reached the point in their sibling development where they think it is fun to pinch, poke, prod and push one another.

That is — until it’s not.

Inevitably, this roughhousing “fun” goes from amazing to awful in no time at all. Despite this, 9-year-old Declan and 7-year-old Mara are still completely surprised when things begin to unravel; when peals of laughter morph into cries of pain.

As a parent, I’m obligated to investigate when situations like this arise.

Normally, all inquiries into what happened are met with blank stares and shrugging shoulders from both of my children. So I know things must be pretty bad when one of them searches me out to lodge a complaint.

Most recently, Mara has received the most complaints.

Maybe she doesn’t realize her own strength, or maybe Declan is holding back since she’s younger. Whatever the case may be, I’m starting to see a pattern where my son comes to report on being mishandled by his little sister.

Like the time she “accidentally” kicked him in the throat as they were racing each other to the top of the stairs. Or the time she “didn’t mean to punch Declan in the leg” when they were scrambling to get the good spot on the couch for movie night.

She’s grown up surrounded by older boys. I wouldn’t call her a brute, but I wouldn’t call her a delicate flower, either. When it comes to roughhousing, Mara has an all-in mentality and a never-say-surrender approach.

Until recently, I thought these shenanigans were isolated to stationary locales like basement playrooms and backyards. I discovered how naive I was on our 500-mile road trip to Omaha.

On road trips of yesteryear, the kids were excited to be on an adventure out of town. They’d read or draw. There was a lot of snacking. Sometimes, they’d make a contest out of trying to outdo each other’s knock-knock jokes. A lot of the time, I would read out loud — sort of a real-life mom version of an audiobook.

I would be proud of Mara’s ingenuity if it didn’t result in me repeating the words “stop it!” and “hands off!” every other minute of the seven-hour car ride. But her new travel version of the game “basement roughhousing” got me to create a game of my own, too. It’s called the “Quiet Game.” In order to win, you need to stop talking or moving longer than all the other players.

I’m hoping it really catches on before we have to load back into the car for the trip home.

Molly Cavanaugh of Channel 94.1 FM’s “Big Party Show” in Omaha is a mom to two children and lives in Chicago. She writes weekly for

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