updated 02/23/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 02/23/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST
Might as well get used to it, kiddo. With the release of her much anticipated new album, Lucky, Etheridge, 42, proves that she is one famous mom who plans to stay that way for a long time to come. Her first studio release since 2001's angsty Skin, the unapologetically upbeat Lucky reflects Etheridge's newlywed bliss. "Yes, all the boo-boos are gone," Michaels, 29, says of the rocker's past heartaches, including her public breakup with director Cypher in 2000. Adds comedian Ellen DeGeneres, a longtime pal: "She and Tammy are just really good together. I've never seen Melissa so happy."
No argument there. These days just about the only thing dragging Etheridge down are the gym weights she grudgingly hoists five days a week to prepare for her upcoming concert tour. "I have to be in shape for what I do," she says, noting, "I look at Sheryl Crow and I'm like, 'You go, girl!' But I enjoy life. I enjoy pancakes on a Saturday morning! I'm comfortable."
Thanks, in large part, to Michaels (The L Word), whom Etheridge met at a West Hollywood bar in March '01. "We were having a good time, and here comes this, like, adorable Q-Tip with lip gloss and gave Melissa her phone number," recalls Etheridge's friend, actress Kathy Najimy. Says Michaels: "I could definitely tell that there were roots in her that I hadn't found in others." Ignoring their 14-year age difference—"I've always dated older women," says Michaels—the couple moved forward with their romance; in July of 2002 Etheridge popped the question at sunset on a beach in the Hamptons. "I was so nervous, I was sick," recalls the singer, who proposed on bended knee. "It was just perfect."
So too was their Malibu wedding on Sept. 20, 2003, during which 170 guests guests—including Jennifer Aniston, Tom Hanks and Sally Field—looked on as Etheridge walked down the aisle escorted by her two kids. "Oh, just wickedly weeping," she says of the big moment. Making it more meaningful was the presence of Michaels's Indiana-based family. "Some of them on the very first plane ride they'd ever taken—to a lesbian wedding in California!" says Etheridge. "When Tammy got up and said thank you, there wasn't a dry eye in the house."
Though gay marriage is not legally recognized in California (Vermont is so far the only state that sanctions civil unions), "it felt like a wedding, looked like a wedding and cost like a wedding, so to me, I'm married, okay?" says Etheridge with a laugh. As for plans to expand their family, "I would not be surprised if in the next couple of years we do," she says, adding that they are exploring sperm-donor options. (Rocker pal David Crosby is the biological father of Bailey and Beckett.)
For now, the couple are content to nest in their 1920s L.A. farmhouse with their brood, which includes dogs Bingo and Angel and kittens Charlie, Lucy and Crystal—the latter three a Christmas present from Etheridge to her new wife. When she heads out to tour this month, the pair will spend only days apart at a time—with the singer's small silver wedding band a constant reminder of her newfound happiness. "This is my guitar-playing hand—I would love to have a big gorgeous wedding band, but I would have to take it off for every show, and I don't want to do that," she says. "I never, ever take this off."
Michelle Tauber. Julie Jordan in Los Angeles