By Lisa Ingrassia
Updated September 29, 2005 06:00 AM
Credit: Brian Zak/GAMMA

Toni Braxton dropped out of the music scene for a few years, but she certainly wasn’t idle during that time. The six-time Grammy winner became a mom to sons Denim, 3, and Diezel, 2 (with musician husband Keri Lewis, 34), performed on Broadway (in the show Aida) and in 2003 she was diagnosed with pericarditis, an inflammation of the heart. With her cardiac problems in check, she’s back with her seventh album, Libra. “I am always trying to find balance in my life,” says the 38-year-old singer about her CD’s title (which is also her astrological sign). Braxton recently spoke to PEOPLE about returning to the studio, adjusting to motherhood and staying sexy.

Was it fun to get back in the studio?
The studio is my least favorite part. I prefer performing on stage live. I’m looking forward to getting back onstage. It’s a great adrenaline rush.

You’ve gone through a lot of changes in your life. How have you translated them to your new album?
I think now I’m very comfortable with my age, first of all. Sometimes musicians hit their thirties and people go, “Oh, she’s older.” But I’m not dead. It’s really strange, especially for women – especially when you’re married and you have kids. You have to remind people that you’re still sexy in a different kind of way.

What is sexy about you at this age?
I’m comfortable with my sexuality, I’m comfortable as a woman. I spent my twenties dating and learning about myself. I made some boo-boos. But in my thirties I can look back on those things as stages to get myself to where I am today. I’m not as green any more.

You were diagnosed with pericarditis when you were doing Aida in 2003. Tell me about that.
During Aida, I had severe chest pains, I was feeling a little fatigued, a little more worn out than usual, but I had just had my second kid. Then the day before I found out, I felt really lightheaded. And then the day it happened, I just passed out during intermission. And I was like, “I gotta get back out there.” And everyone was like, “What are you thinking? No. You’re going to the hospital. Go to the emergency room immediately.” And that’s when I found out I had pericarditis. They said I had a virus of the heart.

Did you go back to the play?
They didn’t want me to. To do a play like that is a lot of work. I shouldn’t have done the play – I should have just stopped. But I’m a fighter.

And you’re a mom of two toddlers. You certainly have your hands full.

I didn’t realize how fertile you are after the first one. With the first one (son Denim) I had postpartum depression so bad. It was crazy. I cried all the time, I was scared to hold the baby. I went to doctors, I went on Zoloft. I got it with the second one an eeny bit, but I think all moms get that. But it’s good now.

What kind of a mom are you?
When I was growing up (my parents) were really strict. I didn’t wear my first pair of pants until I was 14. I don’t want to suppress my kids’ personalities. My 3-year-old wants everything now. To some people that’s a bad thing, but to me that’s a good thing. I just have to try to foster it in a way that’s like, “Okay, you want it now, you have to work for it now.”

What keeps your relationship with your husband going strong?
Thursday is date night. My 3-year-old knows, “Mommy and Daddy have date night.” We go to the movies, out to dinner. Eat at a nice restaurant. Sometimes we go to a hotel. We like to hotel hop. We live a really regular life. We were best friends before we started dating, so we’re still best friends.

You sound really happy.
I am. Sometimes in this industry people say they’re happy and it’s like a negative thing. It’s crazy because everything is just scandal. That seems like the only way in this business that you get attention. But if you’re happy in your life with your husband and your kids, that’s not entertainment. It’s like, I just want to sing! I just want to do what I do!