Get Nonno!

My grandchildren are trying to kill me. I don’t think they mean anything by it except that of all their relatives, I am the one who will wrestle with them, horse around on the trampoline with them, chase them, and dangle them from the backyard deck if they get out of line. Since that’s the nature of my relationship with them, they have no qualms about jumping on me and pummeling me with punches as soon as I walk in the door.

I don’t have that effect on everyone, although no doubt there are a few people at work who would love to do it for real. But, you know, you’ve gotta break a few eggs for the proverbial omelette. I am just glad the grandkids feel comfortable enough to assault me. It represents a level of confidence and trust that they sorely need. Of course, I am the one who walks away sorely, but I have Tiger Balm for that.

I have one grandson in particular who goes straight into boxing mode when he sees me, letting his balled fists fly. Another, his older sister, greets me with what I can only describe as kungfu feet. She is quick, agile, and accurate with the figure of a gymnast. That’s a deadly combination. She is also very talented artistically. The creations she brings home from school are truly impressive, and I am not one to go on and on about such things. I am not a member of the everybody-gets-a-trophy club. I’m old school that way.

Last Thanksgiving at the kids’ table when asked, “Who wants to get nonno?”

Speaking of old school, I am reminded of Mister Giovanello, or “Mr. G” for short. He taught my sixth grade class at PS 30 on Staten Island. He was a big guy with slicked hair who wore a jacket, white shirt, and tie to work. All the male teachers dressed like that back then. But that didn’t stop him at least on one occasion from taking off his jacket, unknotting his tie, and wrestling with all the boys in the class in a raucous exhibition of testosterone. What? you ask.

It’s true, although I can’t be sure how many times it happened. I distinctly remember the school separating the older boys and congregating them into my class with Mr. G. We then engaged in an all-out assault on our beloved teacher, who would deftly fend off each wave until we were spent and gave up. My sense was that the exercise aimed at getting all of our pent up energy out so we would eventually calm down and return to our lessons. I got the impression that it worked.

I can’t imagine that kind of thing happening today, at least not in public school and probably not anywhere. I never imagined playing the part of Mr. G, either, but here I am doing just that all these years later with my own grandchildren. What’s more, I see that they need the physical release and the chance to overcome a challenge, to test a boundary.

I see, too, that the importance of my role is not related to what I do with them or how often we wrestle but simply my presence. That they can take on an elder in the family must give them a tremendous thrill. That it happens to be me is my thrill. After all, they don’t wrestle with grandma or their aunts. They wouldn’t dream of it. Actually, I suggested it once but got an eye roll.

This may be the first boundary they test, but it certainly won’t be the last. I also don’t want to overstate things, but if wrestling with their nonno (Italian, grandfather) helps them learn how to deal with challenges, if it teaches them what it feels like to take on something bigger than themselves and win (I often let them clobber me), then it will be worth it.

Besides, I can take a beating. I’ve got plenty of Tiger Balm.

Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.” Happy Father’s Day to all the dads, granddads, and great granddads, living, deceased, on top of their game or estranged, struggling, and alone. Keep the faith.


  1. Lovely…that your grandchildren have that trust and confidence in you is a treasure. You are an entirely safe person for them. One of those treasures in a field, their presence unknown, thus their location, missed.
    A treasure for your family, and a treasure for us to live in mind…
    A koan from Buddhist literature, and the New Testament: You may accept the treasure chest, open it, take from it whatever you wish, and use what find however you choose…
    Blessings and Thanksgiving…

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