Lisa Palermo Matto celebrates her very special daughter in new book
When you enter the Matto home in Fayetteville, you know instantly you’re in the home of a loving family. Photo collages adorn the walls – pictures of smiling children on beaches, posing with parents, sharing moments of joy with one another.
For Lisa Palermo Matto, telling the story of her daughter, Marlee, is about sharing her sense of wonder and joy with a broader audience. Marlee has a wide smile, a big heart and mischievous sense of humor. She also has Down Syndrome.
In February, Lisa published her first book, The Up Side of Downs, available on amazon.com, in which she tells Marlee’s story through a series of hilarious and heartfelt anecdotes that capture exactly what the title suggests.
“Marlee would get into these situations that were really funny sometimes, and sometimes really nerve-wracking,” Lisa said. When she would recount these stories to family and friends, they would often tell her that she had to write it all down. Eventually, there were enough stories to compile into a book.
That process began about five years ago, but when the pandemic arrived, it gave Lisa the opportunity to really dig into finishing the book. She utilized the graphic talents of a neighbor, Brooke Stratton, for the layout and illustrations that accompany each story. Stratton, she said, was instrumental in helping her through the publishing process on Amazon.
“It came together,” she said, “so far beyond what I ever imagined how well received it would be.”
Lisa is quick to point out that this is not a self-help book filled with parenting tips. Rather it is a celebration of Marlee and of the community that has helped her thrive.
“I wrote this book to chronicle Marlee,” she said. “But I think what I found out when doing the readbacks was how much I grew. And I think that is a hopeful observation for parents that have younger kids than we do.”
Marlee, now 20, is at times gregarious and at others a little bashful. She is self-conscious about the way her eyes look, but happy to share a smile. She likes to play jokes and has a crush on the actor Chris Pine (“I’m obsessed with him.”) She’s looking forward to going to Inclusive U at Syracuse University in the fall, but at the same time she has apprehensions about leaving home.
In many ways, she’s a lot like other young women her age.
“Our kids want to be independent,” Lisa said. “They have dreams and hopes and friends and school – just like everybody else.”
The book chronicles Marlee’s adventures, and at times misadventures, in a way that all parents can appreciate. It shares the story of family vacations with Lisa, her husband Dave, and Marlee’s brother Casey, and of the landmark events that every child looks forward to: the school play, playing sports on a team, the prom.
There was the time Marlee took off in a golf cart with a terrified and unsuspecting passenger in tow. Another time, she wandered from her grandparents’ condo in Florida wearing only her birthday suit. Once at the zoo, she picked up a little girl toddler and took off with her “because she so cute and I want a sister.”
It also tells the story of a girl with a big heart, who makes friends easily and finds joy in bringing happiness to others.
And Lisa is quick to point out that their greater community had a lot to do with Marlee’s successes, in particular, their neighbors, the Donellas, who have been a part of Marlee’s life since a very early age.
“What I hope people will take away from the book is to see the abilities – the abilities in her, but also the abilities in the people in the neighborhood that we have, and the community that we have, and the school district that we have,” she said. “People [should] see what a difference that made.”