Heartwarming stories are popular this time of year, and I just happen to have one.

It's not about how my engagement was broken but I met a handsome lawyer and discovered the true meaning of Christmas or how I lost my job but met a handsome entrepreneur and discovered the true meaning of Christmas -- but it's just as cozy as any Hallmark movie. Or maybe it isn't.

My family made an appointment with a professional photographer. We planned to have pictures taken in all combinations: all of us together, and by various groups -- families, cousins, sisters and so on.

Oh, what fun we'd have. We'd all be suffused with the holiday spirit, from the jolly grandpa and grandma to the loving and patient young parents to the docile, starry-eyed children. The photographer would be throwing meaningful glances at her assistant: "This family is incredible! I'll use them in all my advertising!"

We'd done this once before, which should have grounded us in cold reality, but that was years ago. Now everyone was older and fully on board. Bring on the camera, the Christmas props, the couch on which children are, incredibly, encouraged to jump!

Indeed, when the family met in the lobby for the appointment, everyone's behavior was impeccable. The children played happily with the waiting room's trucks and blocks while recalling their memories of professional photography: "There's a couch we can jump on." The adults discussed clothing: "Is this all right, do you think?" and "I should have worn something else."

Then the door to the inner studio opened, and a family of parents and teenagers, all of them subdued, like people emerging from a bad half-hour in traffic court, filed past our shining faces. Soon after, we were ushered inside.

Immediately, the 5-year-olds spotted the famous jumping couch, now standing to the side among several stools, benches and other props. Both of them leaped on it and jumped as if they'd been contracted to reduce the sofa to a heap of springs and cushions. The adults' admonitions -- "Stop! Not now! Get down!" -- were drowned by the children's delighted shrieks. When the jumpers were contained, at least temporarily, someone proposed a group portrait to start, and everyone gathered under the lights.

"I want to stand over there," said the kindergartners, pointing in various directions. The preschooler wanted to stand apart from everyone else, preferably out of the room entirely. When that was vetoed, he lay supine and stared up at the lights.

Thus went the next 120 minutes. The children shouted, bickered, argued, complained and wept and the parents made reasonable concessions, hissed in their ears, took one child or another out for reminders of "what we talked about" and produced energy-reviving snacks.

Through it all, my husband and I -- grandpa and grandma -- recalled our own younger parenting days, when the devoted mother now telling her daughter to stop making silly faces, do you hear me, had to be carried, shrieking and kicking, from all social gatherings, and when that daughter's sister, the mother now explaining to her son that the photographer's equipment was not for swinging on, once howled so loudly and long in a supermarket that an irritated older man demanded to know what she was crying about.

"She wants to sit in the basket and not in the cart's child seat," I told him tersely.

"Well, it isn't very nice for the rest of us to have to listen to!" the man snapped. His wife was silent, no doubt remembering all the times this man's progeny threw screaming fits in public. We all go through it, in grocery stores, on playgrounds, in libraries and restaurants, though, in fact, in the photography studio, nobody even came close to a screaming fit. Everyone was simply acting their ages.

The photographer was reassuring. "It's always like this," she said.

Then someone had an idea: All the adults should stand in a group, with the kids racing around us like hooligans. Everyone agreed on this plan, and the resulting pictures of children running wild circles around six laughing adults were hands-down favorites.

Though the couch-jumping pictures involving snowballs were pretty good, too.

Write to Margo Bartlett at margo.bartlett@gmail.com.