Circle of women friends won't quit on you

Rachel Akman, Cheryl Ditaranto, Mary Pat Mignogna, Patty Leone, Terri Akman and Debbie Aiken at Escape the Room Philly.

Always in search of a good time, my group of nine women gets together every couple of months to catch up on our lives and families, while trying some new adventure. Irish Weekend at the Shore, bocce in the park, a mom/son happy hour at a pop-up bar, and a minor league baseball game (where Kelly, the very talented daughter of one of our crew, sang the national anthem,) are but a few.

Recently we checked out Escape the Room, the game where you are locked in a room and need to solve clues to get out.

Alas, we didn't make it out on our own.

But five of us, all in our late 50s or early 60s, plus my millennial daughter and a perky, hip couple in their 30s whom we had never met before, formed a bond and through teamwork and a lot of laughs, we got pretty close.

The way it works is that the group is locked into a room and must use their wits and ingenuity to escape. In our case, we were secret agents tasked with breaking into a vault to find the key that would let us unlock the door. We had one hour to complete the task and had no idea where to start.

Somehow, little by little, we began to make progress. Clues in the form of secret codes, cryptograms, mismatched pictures, and surreptitious maps helped us unlock drawers and cabinets to find more clues. Doors opened, monitors revealed themselves, music played - each event leading us one step closer. Without giving anything away that might sour the experience for the next person, I will tell you it's all about teamwork.

The couple who joined us must have gasped at the sight of their new companions. My daughter is close to their age, but the sight of the five "old ladies" probably wasn't what they had signed up for.

But first impressions can be deceiving!

I've known these women for more than 20 years, thrown together on the bleachers when our sons played school sports together. Though most of the kids went their separate ways - varied levels of athletic success, different colleges, and diverse interests - our bond continued to grow. Nights huddling under blankets when temperatures plunged into the low 40s during fall baseball, tailgates, pool parties, personal successes and tragedies - these were the glue that bound us together as moms and cheerleaders.

To quote Patty, one of our bunch, "Never underestimate the power of a good laugh when we're together. Always warms my heart .... and hurts my sides from laughing."

We've helped each other through divorces, deaths of parents and friends, kids moving away, and even some of us leaving the Voorhees neighborhood where we first met.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer 11 years ago, my girls lent an ear, and gave me a goodie bag filled with fun, goofy toys to lift my spirits. They also took me to a yummy Thai food lunch to celebrate when my treatments were complete.

We also celebrate each other's successes - new jobs, our kids' marriages, new grandbabies, and new relationships. No longer confined to Voorhees, we are now scattered from Albany, N.Y, to a few South Jersey towns to Philly. Despite the distance, we continue to find ways to celebrate our friendship.

And boy do we have fun! I think our two unexpected escape partners would agree.

Thank you Cheryl, Marilyn, Lisa, Patty with a y, Patti with an i, Mary Pat, Debbie, and Denise. You help keep me young, are always up for an adventure, and keep my sides splitting with laughter. We may have been unable to escape the room this time, but with you wonderful ladies having my back, I know we'll get through the important stuff.

Terri Akman is a Philadelphia writer.