Government shutdown: ‘Stress for 35 days’ and beyond for Coast Guard family
Groton — Last Friday, the Brudzinskis were feeling defeated.
The Senate, a day earlier, had failed to pass two measures to reopen the government, and fund nine federal departments, including the Department of Homeland Security, which the Coast Guard falls under. Miranda Brudzinski, 34, a petty officer second-class in the Coast Guard, was working but not getting paid. Her husband, Mike, is a stay-at-home dad, so that meant no money coming in.
With no end in sight for the partial government shutdown, which at that point had dragged on for 35 days, the Brudzinskis went back and forth on whether they should take a 3,500 loan is “sitting in savings because this is just temporary. It could happen again,” Mike Brudzinski, 34, said during an interview at the family’s home in Groton on Monday.
The shutdown took a toll on the family financially and mentally.
“It was just stress for 35 days,” Mike said. “There was no let up.”
He called the shutdown “a pointless exercise” given the deal reached was the same that was proposed before the shutdown began on Dec. 22.
“There are no winners. (Nancy) Pelosi didn’t win. Trump didn’t win,” he said. “The damage is done. Some of it is financial, and a lot of it is emotional.”
The family took the weekend to enjoy the reprieve, “but by no means are we back to business as normal,” Mike said.
They went to the food pantry at the Coast Guard Academy over the weekend to stock up on dry goods, and are still being cautious about what they chose to spend money on.
At the beginning of the shutdown, if people asked how they were doing, the Brudzinskis would say “we’re fine. Even though we weren’t,” Mike said.
“You were trying to put on a brave face, if just to keep the kids from knowing the full extent of it,” he said.
The couple has two children, Leila, 3, and Lucas, 6, who attends kindergarten at Charles Barnum Elementary. After hearing Miranda get upset one night, Lucas said “I heard you crying last night mommy.” He came home from school one day and said the father of a kid in his class also isn’t getting paid.
Mike and Miranda tried to shield the kids from what was going on, but they had to tell them there were certain activities they couldn’t do at the moment.
Mike said he could see the stress wearing on his wife, who went to work as usual without getting paid, and volunteered at the food pantry during her lunch break and after work. Afterwards, he’d tell her to go unwind, spend time with the kids, don’t worry about the dishes or picking up the clothes on the floor.
“She’s reporting to duty, fulfilling the oath that she swore, and they forgot about us,” he said. “It was like they didn’t care.”
He would wake up in the middle of the night because his mind was racing, thinking “what are we going to do?”
“There was always this shadow of uncertainty,” he said.
He felt guilty that Miranda was thinking about taking on a second job — something she could do at nights or on weekends.
Paying attention to the news became a double-edged sword. You wanted to know what was happening, but sometimes it became too much to handle. Miranda would turn on the news and get angry. Mike took it upon himself to become the “gatekeeper.” If he came across something negative, he’d weigh whether to tell her about it.
“All of us became C-SPAN junkies,” he said of the Coast Guard spouses.
The spouses viewed themselves as the voice for their active-duty military families, who were limited in what they could say. Mike would push out the latest news developments and updates from Coast Guard officials on social media.
While he tried to avoid reading the comments, he said he was hurt by some people saying the Coast Guard isn’t part of the military, or those saying the 800,000 federal employees affected by the shutdown should’ve saved more.
“We have savings but that’s for emergencies,” Brudzinski said.
Community support was silver lining
The family moved to the area this summer after living for eight years in warm weather — Florida and Puerto Rico — so they used some of their savings to pay for winter clothing and supplies. They also tapped into their savings to pay to fix damages to their home in Florida as a result of Hurricane Irma, so that they could get their asking price when selling it.
When they moved here, they decided it made more sense for Mike, who had a full-time job in Florida, Miranda’s last duty station, to be a stay-at-home dad given the cost of childcare.
Given they live in military housing, when the government shut down, they were told they could hold off on paying their rent. They were also able to defer their car loans.
There were smaller, day-to-day changes, too. Normally, Mike might take Leila to do something during the day, but they stopped doing that to save gas money. Before, they would pay a little more on their credit cards, but they had to stick to the minimum during the shutdown.
The only silver lining was the community support. The food pantry at the academy meant they didn’t have to worry about buying groceries. Friends from college reached out to ask if they could pay the family’s utility bills. Another friend offered to send him money so he could take his son to the movies.
“I’m outside walking the dog and I’m getting these texts and I’m crying that this guy who I haven’t really talked to extensively in 10 years is reaching out to do this for me,” he said.
He and Miranda have kept a list of all the organizations and business that offered to help during the shutdown. When everything settles, they plan to “pay it forward.”
For now, his fear “is that cooler heads won’t prevail and there will be a round two.”