this thing's incredible

These Life-size Cardboard Cutouts Allow My Kids to ‘Visit’ My Family

Photo: “The author,” “her husband,” and “her two daughters” alongside her very real mother

My mom celebrated her 75th birthday recently, and though she only lives a few hours away from me — and I would have loved nothing more than to be there to celebrate with her — we couldn’t risk it amid a pandemic.

Zoom parties are great, but that just wasn’t quite enough of a celebration for such a big birthday. And while I’ve seen people doing really sweet drive-by birthday visits on social media, it seemed like it would be more of a torture for me, my husband, and two daughters to be that close to my parents and not be able to hug. I wouldn’t trust any of us to be able to resist! If we couldn’t be with her in person, I reasoned, I could send her the next best thing: life-size cardboard cutouts of all of us.

After a quick online search, I learned that there are lots of places that offer this kind of service. I settled on a company located not too far away, in Pennsylvania, then I rounded up my family and told everyone to put on an everyday outfit, something we would wear on any given weekend so our doppelgängers would seem realistic. We all took turns posing in front of a large blank wall in good light and snapped iPhone pictures, being careful to stand in the exact same position so our lighting would match.

I sent the files to the printer, along with our exact heights — that way, when we stood “side by side,” it would look accurate. In two business days, they shipped as advertised, and the next day, my dad received the package. The posters are delivered folded in half so as not to give away the surprise, and he stored them discreetly in the garage. Then, on the morning of her birthday, he set them up in the kitchen, where we knew she would see them when she went to make her coffee. She was thrilled — and did not, much to my relief, have a heart attack upon seeing four people standing motionless in her kitchen. She called us immediately and then proceeded to drag us all over the house, taking pictures of us in various locations where we would actually be. (Though my parents were delighted, their dog was not. She barked incessantly at the cutouts.)

The color correction and quality of the printing was perfect. If a real person is standing next to our cutouts in a photo, you can hardly tell who is real. And though my mom’s birthday has now long passed, our cardboard counterparts are still hanging out around their house. I imagine, as we all grow older and we are reunited in person, these younger versions of us will serve as a relic of this deeply weird moment in time — and they’ll make for great pranks, too.

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These Life-size Cutouts Allow My Kids to ‘Visit’ My Family