She was nice about it. She talked to my son with a smile on her face as she patiently showed him how to brush his teeth more thoroughly. “In fact, why don’t I give you a little timer, so you can be sure that you brush long enough at home, too?” She smiled at me, then patiently explained where his teeth needed more attention. I know she didn’t intend to make me feel guilty, but I couldn’t help but shrink into my chair a little as she spoke. With the shame of bad dental hygiene hanging over my head, I promised to do a better job of monitoring my children’s teeth brushing habits. I felt more like I was promising to be a better mother.
Is it really that big of a deal? Of course, I want my children’s teeth to be healthy, but there’s no need to become obsessive, right? I have five children. That’s a lot of little body parts to care for. I lose track sometimes. Like that moment when my son shows up to his piano lesson with fingernails that are two inches long. Or we realize somebody made it all the way to the church parking lot with no shoes. Once we even left town for a weekend get-away, and it was only after we got to the hotel that I realized I’d completely forgotten to pack anything at all for my two-year-old son!
But each of those little body parts is important. They all serve a specific purpose for the one body to which they belong.
“But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. If they were all one part, where would the body be? But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” 1 Cor 12:18-20
It is precisely these different parts that allow the body to express the person. (Theology of the Body 14:4) Fingers creating beauty out of piano keys, feet walking in the Communion line at Mass, legs kicking in the hotel pool on a family vacation. But they aren’t just fingers, feet, and legs. They are sensitivity, love, and joy. The “‘body’ reveals the ‘living soul’.” (Theology of the Body 14:4) It is the many parts that make us one. It is the many parts that give us the ability to reveal God to the rest of the world.
So, yes, cutting our children’s fingernails is important. As is brushing their teeth, dressing their bodies, and finding their shoes. As we care for their bodies, we care for their souls. I don’t think it is a coincidence that it is in those moments that I’m cutting my son’s nails or braiding my daughter’s hair that they start to talk and reveal their innermost feelings. It is in those little gestures of parenthood that we remind our children of their great value. It is in those loving gestures towards their bodies that grace starts to flow and we find the door to their hearts.
And as we care so lovingly for each of their precious parts, they learn to expect that same respect from others. They learn to expect others to appreciate their bodies just the way God designed them, and they learn that intimacy of the body is equated with intimacy of the soul.
So the dental hygienist was right in reminding me to be diligent with my children’s teeth brushing habits. While she may have just been doing her job, she reminded me that these little bodies, and their many parts, are sacred. One body, one soul. One and the same.
Image credit: Baby Feet, Bruno Glatsch, Pixabay, CCO Public Domain