Richard and Mary Ann Bruno say that God placed a granddaughter in their home to teach them patience and keep them on their toes.
The Brunos, members of St. Michael's parish in Troy, have raised now 12-year-old Brianna since infancy. "Grandparenthood" even seems to provide them with new energy: "If she wasn't here, I probably would be a lot less mobile," said Mrs. Bruno, 64.
Struggling with back pain and arthritis, "Grammy" Bruno sometimes goes back to bed after Brianna leaves on the school bus. But, two or three times a week, she goes to a senior center instead.
Mr. Bruno, a diabetic 68-year-old, named another advantage to having Brianna around: She helps her "Poppy" with his nightly insulin shots.
"She's the love of my life," gushed Mr. Bruno. "I couldn't think of life without her."
The Brunos, who have been married for 43 years, have two adult children. Brianna's mother, Julie, has a psychological disorder that prevents her from parenting Brianna - who is herself diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
Julie "couldn't give her the things that we did," said Mrs. Bruno.
Brianna, who still sees her mother every other week, says they also talk on the phone "every other minute."
When the Brunos decided to have Brianna live with them, Mr. Bruno retired from his job with the U.S. Postal Service to stay home with her. The experience has stood apart from their first round of parenting.
"There's a different feeling when you raise your children," said Mrs. Bruno, who retired from the Rensselaer County Bureau of Tax Services three years ago. "We were so proud of [Brianna] and wanted to take her everywhere."
The couple attended a support group with other people raising grandchildren, where they discovered their lot could be worse and "we're not alone," Mrs. Bruno said.
Brianna has Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS), which involves challenges in social and language development. She attends a BOCES program at Howard L. Goff Middle School in East Greenbush, where she learns at a second-grade reading level and a first-grade math level.
"She's come a long way," Mr. Bruno said. "[I tell her], 'You have nothing to be ashamed about. Keep your head up high.'"
Brianna helps her grandparents wash dishes; they help her bathe and dress. "[Grammy] combs my hair, and I pick my own clothes out," she told The Evangelist.
She bowls in a league and is learning to ride a bike with the help of STRIVE Adaptive Sports in Rensselaer. She likes to sing and play the drums at school and can recite song lyrics by artists from The Beatles to Frank Sinatra to the Black Eyed Peas. She has a newfound interest in country music.
Brianna's recent career goals have included police officer and veterinarian.
"She can't do things as fast as others," Mrs. Bruno said. "Other than that, she's as normal as everybody else. I tell her not to think of her disability as something that keeps her behind."
Brianna said of her condition: "It means sometimes I have a hard time doing things."
Though she exhibits few behavioral problems, she does worry about taking tests and can grow frustrated when she doesn't understand material. "I get mad when somebody yells at me," she explained. She attends a group where "we talk about how we feel and our anger."
Mrs. Bruno sang in her parish choir for 20 years and volunteers with parishioners who serve meals at the Albany Damien Center for persons dealing with HIV/AIDS. The couple are in the men's and women's guilds at St. Michael's; both sometimes serve as ushers.
Parishioners "always make a point to come up and say hello" to Brianna, Mrs. Bruno said.
The 12-year-old can get overly fixated on the idea that her grandparents won't be around forever. She leans on her faith, noting that the Bible is "something that's good to learn about. Sometimes, when I'm nervous about things, I go to [God]. I tell Him to help me out.
"I believe in God. He makes a rainbow if it rains. He helps me when I'm having a hard time, [like] when I'm taking a test."