02/06/2014 06:36 am ET Updated Apr 08, 2014

The Best Valentine's Day Gift Ever

No sooner did my husband drive down the driveway last week when one of the smoke alarms in the house started blasting. Blasting as in ear-splitting, migraine-inducing, scare-the-dogs-off, hurt-your-molars blasting.

Vic was too far away for me to catch him and ever since he lost his bluetooth ear piece somewhere in his old Honda Pilot he keeps his phone turned off until he arrives at his destination. He says that by not talking on the phone while driving, he's setting a good example for our teenage daughter about to get her driver's license. I think it's more that he cherishes his alone time and has figured out this is the best way to get small snatches of it without being marked MIA from his family role.

So there I was, left alone in the house with a smoke alarm 20 feet above my head having its way with my central nervous system. I called a neighbor; he wasn't home. Left with no other choice that I could see, I just fled -- but not before taping a note to the door advising the fire department (should it arrive) that there was no fire and the door was unlocked so please don't break it down to get in. Sometimes I watch too much TV and I was especially fond of Denis Leary's "Rescue Me."

Anyway, when I finally reached my husband, I asked him to return home and "deal with it." And that's how we wound up having the Big Conversation, the one where in the 1950s the husband would turn to the wife and show her where all the important papers were kept.

"What will you do when I'm gone?" Vic asked me.

"Huh? Did you get back some bad (medical) test results?" I asked. "Are you checking out on me?"

None of the above. Vic is 15 years my senior and we both just had birthdays. The Big Conversation is something he'd been thinking about for awhile apparently and the faulty smoke alarm just gave him his entree.

And so that evening, I got a lesson on our fuse box. I got shown the list of phone numbers for all the repairmen who "we" use with some notations like "don't call XYZ Plumbing because they don't know what they are doing." He showed me where you need to place the bucket under the sink in the guest bathroom and told me about clearing the "path" of the garage door sensor in case the door won't go all the way down. We laughed about the time I couldn't get it to shut and called him in frustration. "Remember to make sure the dog isn't sleeping in the sensor path," he said; Dolce likes to do that sometimes.

We also talked about some other stuff. When it comes to school work, don't be so hard on the kids, he said. "They will be fine, even if they get a B sometimes," he told me. "And if Simon wants to do something besides playing soccer all the time, you shouldn't discourage him." This from my sports-addicted husband? "Don't make yourself so crazy every time something doesn't go the way you think it should because it isn't healthy for you, the kids or me." Ouch. All this because I couldn't reach the smoke alarm?

Here's the kick in the ass: I am the main breadwinner in our family. I pay all our bills, cook most of our meals and am the family's main event and vacation planner. I am also the primary decision-maker when it comes to a lot of stuff -- not because Vic's opinions don't matter but because we long ago figured out that we are both more comfortable with me being the engine that runs the family. Our marriage is a partnership and our roles pretty well-defined by this time. They may not be the traditional roles, but we each know how to do our "jobs" better than the other one does. I am the worrier, the anticipator, the over-planner; I stockpile toilet paper and dog food and make us rehearse our earthquake evacuation plan. He is the relaxed "what me worry?" one. It's a yin-yang deal that works.

Did I really need the Big Conversation just because I couldn't reach the smoke alarm? Yes, yes I did. And frankly, I regard it as my Valentine's Day gift.

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